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Sailing Antigua and other adventures
July 30th, 2012 @ 11:12 AM EST by admin

All the people, both of them, who’ve read my travel notes about the Grenadines found them interesting, incomprehensively.

They asked me to write more sailing stories. I don’t have many to tell. It’s rather embarrassing; I’ve neither sailed across the Atlantic single-handed nor have I won the America’s Cup.

Be that as it may, I cannot disappoint my readers, so I thought I should narrate my trip to Antigua in the Leeward Islands in early 2012.

In the midst of our bleak Toronto winter, I was looking forward to bareboating a Jeanneau 44i in a spectacularly beautiful part of the Caribbean. There was another big plus to my trip: I had an all-female crew.  A crew of one.

To save her the embarrassment of being publicly associated with me, I’ll protect her anonymity by referring to her as the crew.

The crew was charming, but not very experienced in the realm of sailing or of the sea.  Worse, I was going sailing with someone who describes herself as aquaphobic. Aquaphobic? Mixing up Latin and Greek, sheer nonsense! Clearly, it should hydrophobic. Which is also the feeling I get when I receive my electricity bill here in Toronto.

In spite of these obstacles, the plan was to go round the island.

Our boat was anchored at Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour, in the southernmost part of Antigua. It’s a deep, natural harbour, well-sheltered from the dominant easterly winds. The approach gently bends a number of times before reaching the inner harbour. It’s somewhat of a squeeze for large yachts, as you will see in the photos.

The mangrove on the east side of the inner harbour is sought-after in the event of a hurricane, but one has to get there early, because the place becomes crowded.

English Harbour was developed in the early 1700s by the British Navy. It’s close to the French outposts of Guadeloupe and Martinique and became a useful base for England’s sempiternal battles against France and vice-versa.  At that time anyway, perhaps it’s no longer true.

The docks were regenerated in the 1950s; it’s been a wonderful renaissance, with a sail loft, shops, good restaurants and a couple of excellent hotels, all using the original Georgian buildings in a sympathetic way. One of the hotels is called the “Copper and Lumber Store Hotel”, revealing its original use.

We left Nelson’s Dockyard on a cloudy and windy morning, aiming for Jolly Harbour, a mere 15 miles away.

Prior to departure, I explained to my crew the usual safety procedures, notably the use of the VHF and crew overboard retrieval actions. When underway, I asked her to repeat these procedures, notably what she would do if I were to fall overboard. The answer was a spine-chilling “Oh, I’d just jump right in with you”. That was perhaps a mark of sincere affection, but truly not a good idea.

Nevertheless, we continued on.

The passage was uneventful; we were sheltered from the Atlantic swell, we went downwind for the most part and had beam winds in the latter part.

In Jolly Harbour, with winds gusting to 30 knots, I decided to grab a mooring ball. At the mouth of the harbour, I explained the method to my crew:  I would bring the boat’s bow to the buoy, and she would loop a line to said buoy’s line and tie it to our bow cleats.

The maneuver was brilliantly executed by my crew. Except that I had forgotten to tell her to tie the other end of the line to the boat. So we drifted off quickly. She was left holding a wedding of snakes showing me a variety of befuddled smiles, which I returned, of course.

Two tries later, we were tied to the ball. Our attempts provided great entertainment to the other boats nearby, who were quick to put out fenders and giggle reasonably quietly.

We found a lovely sheltered bay on the east coast. It’s called Nonsuch Bay. There is a wide reef to the east and two entrances to the bay: A very tricky, narrow, swelly, entrance to the north and a palatable one to the south, but with no channel markers, as with many parts of the Leewards. As we entered the more prudent southern passage, the wreck of a modern sailboat lay to our starboard, a warning to those who pay little heed to the reefs.

I decided to anchor in 20 feet of water near the western end of the bay. I chose to anchor there because I had heard of an excellent restaurant nearby, Harmony Hall. The combination of being near Harmony Hall in Nonsuch Bay sounded propitious.

Well, it wasn’t, at least when I tried to anchor.

In a gusting 25 knot wind, I laid out a prudent 5:1 scope, all chain, on muddy sand. There were no boats around us so we had plenty of room to swing round the anchor and, anyway, the winds almost always come from the east.

We promptly drifted away. I sailed back up to windward, laid to 6:1, then 7:1, 140 feet of chain in total. The extra chain must have been effective as we stopped drifting very suddenly. The anchor snubber emitted a guitar-like twang. It was an abrupt halt. My crew, who had been quietly dancing with her back to the wind on the open stern, was sent splashing into the warm waters for an unplanned swim.

As with most good things, our journey could not last forever, so we went back south to English Harbour in rough seas. They were caused by the easterly swell hitting the cliffs; they have the entire width of the Atlantic to develop, they then rebound and create pyramidal waves, which are much higher than the swells further out to sea. It’s best to stay a bit offshore for a comfortable ride, although it somewhat lengthens the journey.

But, that said, when I sail, I find the journey is often more important than the destination.

John Pretzel (aka J M Cangardel)