Monday, April 23, 2012

Antigua Classic Race week

Ooops, went the wrong way and are back in Antigua drooling over classic yachts in the regatta. Off to BVI's tomorrow for some R&R after observing all the exertion.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Our position today - St Maarten or St Martin if you are French

Stepping stones to heavenly Barbuda

If Dominica can be described as an earthly paradise, then Barbuda is a little slice of heaven on earth. But first we had to use some island stepping stones between the two. I've described them just for cruising info.

Iles de Saintes, Part of Guadeloupe, and therefore France, and the EU, like Martinique.
The entire bay at Bourg de Saintes, where you can check in, is lined with buoys. They collect the fee at 6pm or 8am – 9 euro for 40' boat. They are new moorings. You can still anchor for free in the other bays. From dinghy dock, turn right, cross the square and on the right see a sign for LSM – upstairs there is an internet cafe with the clearance computer. Complete it yourself, and it is stamped by the worker, 1E paid and you are officially in France!
There is good walking and nice beaches, but we found it twee and expensive.

Guadeloupe, west coast. Anchored on mainland opposite Pigeon Island, a Cousteau marine reserve. We kayaked over and snorkelled around the island. It was very clear and lots more fish than anywhere else in French territory we have seen. Lots of French boats and dive boats, but the French internal tummy alarm sounds simultaneously at 1pm and you have the place to yourself for 2 hours pendant ils mangeant. Scuse my French. Sorry, no photos thanks to the stupid Olympus underwater camera.

Also anchored Deshaies, small fishing village with a lot of wind. Good holding in the middle. Expensive ashore, clearance at the internet cafe for 5E if you need it.

Friends explored the marina at Point a Pitre and found it reasonable (20Eish) with cheap laundry. The central canal is very shallow, <2m in places. They went around the outside.

Antigua, Falmouth Harbour.
Excellent anchorage, and nice beach nearby. Walk 5 mins to English Harbour for check in at immigration in Nelson's Dockyard.  You will be asked how long you are staying in the harbour – we said 2 nights, and were charged a daily dinghy landing fee, and small per person fee for garbage and sanitation, on top of the $12US for the 4 week cruising permit. Total $35US.We stayed longer in Falmouth by chance, but no-one comes to check.
English Harbour is pretty and the Dockyard has been nicely restored, with an interesting museum of  17thC naval stuff, enough to satisfy even the die-hard Nelson fan like me.

These giant capstans were used to keel haul the big ships over to one side, so they could clean the bottom of the boats. Now it is home to superyachts, not naval ships.
Falmouth harbour – lots of decent bars with free wifi. We caught up on correspondence here, the West Indies have been dire for wifi access. Life on the Corner served us the best meal we've had in a long while- check out the fishburgers. 
View from Shirely Heights of English and Falmouth harbours
We were told that we'd really love 'Sunday night at Shirley heights' and have heard lots of cruisers rave about it. Packed with tourists, it's only bearable after 8pm when the music gets a bit more local. We were thoroughly ripped off, through being unprepared, and I have no qualms about telling you how to 'do ' the Heights for free, as they are making far too much I think. From Falmouth, it is a really long walk, so you need a taxi. Here's how to avoid it:
Move your boat to anchor off Freemans's bay, the outer part of English harbour. Take the steep ½ mile track from the beach to Shirley Heights – you enter at the back so avoid the 20EC 'tourist tax' entry fee.

You can eat before you go, the BBQ is not too expensive, but dull, and your plastic plate and wobbly knife and fork make eating it troublesome. Take something to drink with you – all drinks are small and expensive (9EC). Go to listen to the steel band, and watch the tourists from all-inclusive hotels. They all wear their sunburn with pride. It's a reality circus.  Music better later when a live band starts.  Take a torch for the track back home.

We found the Antiguans a bit sullen and uncommunicative. On a couple of occasions we got chatting to people who were really lovely -  then they mentioned that they were from Dominica! A lot of Domincans come to work here as there is a much larger market for their goods, fruit and veg, fish etc. 
A lot of super-yachts provision here, so prices can be high.  There are so many anti-aircraft masthead lights that the place looks like an oil-rig after dark. 

Five Islands harbour, west coast Antigua. 
Lovely bay, we anchored off Hermitage Bay, and enjoyed a bit of solitude.  

Stu caught a couple of really nice tuna. One of the fish was having a really bad day – not only had he been completely fooled into thinking that a sparkly plastic lure was a tasty fish, but then his back half was taken off by a shark while he was being reeled in. 

Barbuda-ful Barduda.

Finally we arrived at the heavenly, coral-reef fringed island of Barbuda. Although annexed to Antigua politically, all land here is communally owned, and all efforts to develop the island have been fiercely resisted by the locals. There were 3 hotels on the island. The famous K-Club closed 5 years ago, but is still for sale for US$40-60million. They used to charge $1000 a night and were always full. There are only 2 hotels to choose from now – this one, The Lighthouse charges $2000 a day.  There is nothing here, just a sand-spit, and a handful of yachts. 

As you can see the beach is not over-run with tourists paying 2000 a night!

We thought the island was remarkably quiet, and then we discovered that the only passenger ferry, that used to bring day trippers from Antigua, has been broken for a month. Now the only way onto the island is by the 9-seater plane, which lands twice a day. That's a 18 tourist-a-day-turnaround for the whole island (apart from the few that come in by private plane or helicopter). No wonder it is quiet. 

Other than kayaking up and down the 11mile beach there was little to do. Sight of a 7' shark behind the boat put us off swimming, and a large swell made landing on the beach impossible, as I found out when I got sandblasted and swept onto it from the kayak. Even when you get ashore, there is no road on this side of the island, just the sand-spit. You can cross the lagoon inside to the town by water taxi, but on this occasion we couldn't even get to the shore!

We headed south and picked our way through the coral to Coco Point, where the other hotel is located. Princess Di must have stayed here it seems. 

With the swell reduced we got the bikes ashore and cycled 9 miles to the main town of Codrington. The roads are mostly deserted except for wild donkeys.  We still don't know what side of the road they drive on, as the few cars we saw use the smoothest part of the road.  Stu bravely cycled back with many kilos of provisions in his backpack. 

3000 people live on Barbuda, most of' them in Codrington, a spit and sawdust town, with not a lot to offer visitors. We found Grace's Roti shop – a tiny private house with broken chairs in the yard. Stu leant his bike against some junk, until I pointed out that it was their armchair, and he quickly moved it. The roti's were delicious. 

Still at Coco point, we had some delightful snorkelling and swimming, and went on kayak safari to a local beach-bar-restaurant. Daytrippers used to come especially to Uncle Roddys' and the island is famous for it's lobster so lobster lunch at Roddys it was. 75EC for more lobster than was comfortable to eat in one sitting. It was very good, but it will be a while before we can face (and can afford) lobster again.
This was all for 4 of us!

And not a lot left over at the end, except a lot of shell!

Having explored the only road on the south of the island, we headed back up to Low Bay on the west side to organise our afternoon out in the water taxi. A set fee of $70 US for 4 people takes you to the Frigate Bird colony and across the lagoon to Codrington, where we needed to clear out of the country.  The 'King No.1 water taxi' was advertising his trade on the VHF radio, so we took him up on his invite.

The King took us around the town pointing out the immigration office, customs,  a restaurant, the wifi cafe, and harbour masters offices, none of which we would have found on our own. First we had to visit someone's house as Samantha was not at work doing whatever bit of the paperwork she normally does, so we had to go to her home. The King knew exactly where to find her, and we admired her tortoises in the yard while she did her bit of paperwork. They clear out 300 boats a year here – 2 per day in season. I guess it just is not enough to justify reorganising the offices.

They eat tortoises here, by the way, but not donkeys.

November is the best time to see the Frigate birds in full effect, as that is their mating season when all the men are displaying their red puffed up chests and competing for girls by squawking loudly.

But we saw lots of the resulting chicks. Frigate bird have wingspan of up to 8', which takes 2 years to develop. 
Show off!

Meanwhile mum stays at home and looks after the one egg per couple, and dad hops off as far as Galapagos to find a new lady to impress. 
Their feathers are not waterproof, so you can see them drying them in the wind. 
This one is doing yoga!

They can't dive far into the sea for the ½ kilo of fish that they need a day, so they steal it from other birds. If they try for a fish and get it wrong, they have to be helped out of the sea by fellow frigate birds. 
It is rather Hitchcock-esque. 30000 birds in a small section of the lagoon. Apparently they like it here because there is no air traffic to disturb them.  They can fly up high enough to avoid a hurricane system heading their way. 

One of the 900 chicks born this season

We would explore more, but another annoying northerly swell is coming and we must find food.