Join us for 9 days and 8 nights chartering in Antigua.
Day One – Saturday:
All 17 of us made it to the Sunsail base around 4pm. Even though the boats weren’t technically ready until 6pm we were allowed to move gear aboard. Shere Khan was the 50’ monohull carrying 9 souls and Teranga III was the 38’ catamaran with me and 7 other crew.
I immediately claimed what I thought to be the best berth. I chose the starboard side aft berth. The aft berths were wider so that was an easy call. The starboard side had the fridge which provided some mechanical white noise while in port; the kind of white noise that helps me sleep. That turned out not to be much of a factor because, much to our surprise, the catamaran had shore powered air conditioning. In English Harbor, which was very protected, the air conditioning was quite nice 🙂
Our provisions were arriving all evening on day one and into the evening on day two…
Day Two – Sunday:
Around 11am we did an inventory of our provisions. Bring a copy of your provisioning list! We had much of what we had ordered but some key components of meals were missing.
We talked to the Sunsail folks and they said the provisions were on their way and would hopefully be arriving soon.
We also got our briefings out of the way. The chart briefing outlined lots of no-go areas. From memory, in red, they are thus (thanks to google maps for the satellite images):
The forecast called for 6’ North Swells slowly becoming less severe throughout the week. That and a good wind forecast gave us the OK for Barbuda anytime during the week though the later we went the more pleasant it should have been.
Given the extensive no-go restrictions it was clear in the briefing that, rather than not enough time to see everything, we had more than enough days to go through the best spots and staying more than one day at Barbuda and perhaps somewhere else.
Everyone we talked to raved about the Sunday party at Shirley Heights which was best accessible from the dock, still arriving provisions, dwindling daylight, better Barbuda conditions later on and some crew’s desire to stick around to watch the Super Bowl led us to just head out on a quick out and back day sail just to get some sailing in.
I’d like to say it was a pleasant sail but, at least on the catamaran, it was not. Somebody had set some kind of depth based anchor alarm that started blaring once we got most of the way out of English Harbour. It was set on the depth sounder but it had the lovely capability of talking to all of the other electronics and setting off their alarms as well. So along with figuring out how this new boat we had all the alarms going off every 2 minutes or so. Plus traffic from some superyacht round the buoys regatta going on right outside English Harbour. Nothing interesting actually happened but the alarms going off every 2 minutes kept me on edge. So of course when I had a few minutes to enjoy instead I spent that time acknowledging the alarms and trying to disable the source. It didn’t help that, usually, the chartplotter started sounding first so we thought it was the cause of the alarm.
Back on the dock the first priority was to shut up the stupid alarms. Of course, at the dock, they didn’t actually go off. But, between the two of us and the manual we figured out it was the depth sounder causing the alarms and we mashed enough buttons that we finally managed to turn the thing off without having to hard reset and re-calibrate the whole thing.
So an un-eventful first trip out in the catamaran was our first victory. It didn’t feel like a victory, however, until we were sure we got the stupid depth alarm disabled for good.
We checked out Shirley Heights. The entertainment was neat but the rain put a damper on the festivities, the BBQ food and the sunset. What was rumored to be the best place to watch the sunset on Antigua turned out to be the least spectacular sunset of the trip. Then we found somewhere playing the superbowl a few steps from where we tied up and had our own Super Bowl party in paradise.
As the icing on the cake I discovered that my carefully selected bunk had a leaky hatch. After investigating the source of the leak we patched it up as best we could for the night and went to sleep.
Day Three – Monday:
Yup, we’re still at the Sunsail dock at English Harbour. Which is fine with me because, as soon as they opened their doors, I found somebody and informed them about my leaky hatch and insisted that they take care of that first thing. As soon as the maintenance guy showed up he was on board our boat with some silicone caulk; I showed him how I thought water was getting in and he applied the caulk liberally. Another victory: our hatch didn’t leak at all after the caulk had dried!
The Shere Khan had some minor mechanical issues that the Sunsail staff also took care of this morning. So being stuck at the base for almost 48 hours benefited them as well.
We bought some last minute provisions based on what still hadn’t shown up. Stocked up on Rum. Then we had the Sunsail staff extricate our boat from the dock after watching another boat catch their rudder on their neighbor’s Med Moored anchor. Finally we were on our way!
We had better than 25 knots as soon as we got offshore. We were heading downwind so no need for the main we simply rolled out the jib and were off at 7 knots on starboard tack, taking us a safe distance offshore. The wind built and pretty soon we were rolling up two reefs in the jib. We discovered that the jib furling line was run back to the helm but not through turning blocks but simply through the supports at the base of the stanchions. This made it impossible to furl up the jib from the cockpit so I went forward and sweated in the line on the trampoline. Cut my finger pretty good in the process. I got a shot of 7 knots boat speed with apparent wind of 23.1knots from astern so the wind was up to 30 knots. Eventually we gybed over to port tack and started getting closer to Antigua.
In the rain and haze we hadn’t really been able to see Shere Khan most of the day but as we got into the lee of Antigua the wind abated, rain stopped, the sun came out and we were able to see them on their way into Five Island Harbour. We headed up and sailed after them with full canvas up.
Since the swell was running and their monohull was more susceptible to it we let them pick the anchorage. They took their sweet time so we anchored ourselves. As soon as the anchor was secure I leapt into the water thereby winning the day (everyone had wanted to go swimming from the boat since the first day). I was joined shortly by most of the crew and one marauding alligator.
Once Shere Khan had chosen the anchoring spot we raised anchor to follow suit. That did not work out, I detail that drama in this article.
We set up the BBQ on the back deck and grilled burgers. We planned to get underway at first light the next morning and head to Barbuda.
Day 4 – Tuesday:
Briefly: we got up just before sunrise and headed off toward Barbuda. As we got out of Five Island Harbour we noticed the wind got stronger the further offshore we got. We continued motoring offshore until we finished breakfast and then raised the sails. Under sail we were reaching or close reaching at 7-8 knots in 16-19 knots apparent almost the whole way to Barbuda. It was glorious sailing.
Once in Barbuda we tried to go snorkeling but the visibility was rather poor. Once we made it to the beach the reason for this was obvious, the swell crashing on the beach was kicking a lot of sand into the water near the shore. It did make the water a bright, beautiful blue.
There was another walk on the beach for watching the sunset and then the crew of Shere Khan came over for a visit to discuss the following day. And, apparently, somebody cracked open a coconut above my berth while I took a nap. I was really tired.
Day 5 – Wednesday:
The Barbuda shore party was ready to go early in the morning. Off they went, bound for the sinkhole and the frigate bird rookery. I’m a bit jealous that I didn’t get to see the sinkhole but the remainder of us had a kiteboarding mission. We had a hearty breakfast and dinghied ashore with Andrew and his kiteboarding gear. He tried the 12 meter kite and quickly moved on to the 15 meter kite. Those things really don’t go upwind and pretty soon he was well offshore and took a seat in the water to wait for retrieval.
After he went flying over the dinghy when the kite powered up as he tried to climb aboard the second dinghy boarding attempt was much more successful. The essentially flat bottom dinghy was easily pulled off course by the kite while motoring back to the beach. That made sneaking between the reefs more interesting for the driver but all’s well that ends well. This kiteboarder retrieval was the end of the day’s kiteboarding attempts.
We walked around Coco Point to the eastern side that encloses Gravenor’s Bay. The water was much clearer and we had the best snorkeling of the trip thus far. The snorkeling wasn’t that good and we saw that we couldn’t walk that much further. We decided to try to dinghy around after lunch and we decided to have lunch on the boat.
After lunch we revised our plan to take the dinghy around and decided to try to walk over to Gravenor’s. This was a mistake. Lunch also took us a bit longer than we thought and then we came across part of the shore party who wanted to join for snorkeling. So we got marching across Barbuda later than we had intended.
It was not a short walk. And the “road” on the map could hardly be considered that. Once ashore it was very hot and stuffy, most of the vegetation was desert vegetation so very prickly. We had to cross a swamp to make it to the road which started the smell of manure. The shore was mostly fenced off with barbed wire which was quite uninviting. Once we got to the beach the coral was right up to the shore so there was nowhere to make a swimming entry. And the interesting outer reef was a good distance away. The visibility was better but the snorkeling still wasn’t very interesting.
If I had this to do over again we’d definitely take the dinghy and have left earlier. Extra practice navigating reefs and better access to snorkeling. I’d replace a boring, hot, smelly walk with a cool, interesting dinghy ride any day of the week.
The sunset was beautiful this night. We had some fun diving from and swimming around the boat and got lots of sunset pictures. It was a nice way to end the day.
Day 6 – Thursday:
Our plan for getting back to Antigua was even more aggressive than our plan for getting to Barbuda. We planned to sail to Nonsuch Bay on the eastern shore of Antigua; given the forecast that would be a close reach or close hauled most of the way, into 4’-5’ seas and 12-15 knots of wind.
It wasn’t much of a stretch for Shere Khan. The 50’ monohull had plenty of power for beating into those seas. Teranga III was the issue. We didn’t have the experience to say for sure but I suspected that the seas would force the lightweight catamaran to sail far off the wind, making windward progress difficult. This turned out to be the case though we made the best of it and made the almost 40nm passage to the mooring field just north of Green Island with time to spare. More details of sailing performance can be found in this article.
It was nice to be on a mooring given our anchoring woes earlier in the week. It was in pretty deep water but the visibility was the best we’d seen yet so I was able to dive down to the mooring and check it out. We did some snorkeling around Bird Island which was, again, the best snorkeling yet. It was surprising how quickly sunset and dinner were upon us and then planning for the next day. The problem was this anchorage was so beautiful that we didn’t want to leave. That and the fact that there wasn’t much nearby that we could go to. We planned a short hop leaving around noon which would give us more time to explore the area in the morning.
The first real day of sleeping in meant a party the night before. It got pretty ridiculous with glow sticks and wigs coming out and went until 3am. It was also awesome.
Day 7 – Friday:
I woke up Andrew early letting him know that there would be enough wind for kiteboarding. He got up and started working out how to launch the kite from the boat. Teranga III, being a catamaran, had plenty of room for spreading things out but even despite that and despite being on a mooring the kite launch still didn’t go smoothly. It took about an hour and was a bit fouled up so Andrew had to kite over to the beach, drop the kite, fix it and then head back out.
During that time I got out in the dinghy to get some kiting pictures and video which came out really good. He soaked us pretty good for our trouble.
Bringing the kite in was interesting too. It only slammed Andrew against the hull once before we realized we shouldn’t cleat the line holding him to the boat.
After kiting we started brunch, remember everyone had been up until 3am so it was a late start. Over brunch Andrew relayed that he’d come across a lot of reefs that looked promising for snorkeling. That, combined with the dearth of suitable harbors on the south side of Antigua, the prospect of a long slow downwind passage and some perusing of the cruising guide that indicated Nonsuch bay should be further explored convinced Teranga III’s crew that spending another day on this mooring was the way to go. Upon hearing this Shere Khan’s crew went on their way to a distant port; enduring that slow downwind passage on the way.
I guess the Island time had run away with us. After having been in the Caribbean for almost a week and we were in no hurry to get anywhere, we were content enjoying where we were. It was an excellent and ironic milestone: the we stopped measuring milestone 🙂
We snorkeled our buts off all day and it was, as Andrew had promised, the best yet. Around sunset we made our way across Nonsuch bay, stopping at a boat anchored in that end of the bay to ask about where we should try to eat that evening. They steered us in the right direction and we wound up at a beautiful Tuscan style villa with a lookout tower with great views and delicious food. It was the nicest restaurant I have ever been to and the tastiest cuisine I had ever eaten in the Caribbean. If you’re in the area in need of a sit down dinner definitely check out Harmony Hall. It’s a bit fancier than I usually prefer and kinda expensive but I bet you’ll decide it was worth it.
Day 8 – Saturday:
We started another day with a late-ish breakfast and snorkeling. This time we dinghied as far out as we could on the north shore of Green Island in the hopes that we could snorkel our way out past the reefs. We were successful at getting past the reefs although the process of doing so required snorkeling some pretty shallow, wavy reefs which was a bit nerve wracking. The reward was awesome though, there was a really cool underwater passage that we swam through. Brad found a shark sleeping in a cave. I made my way ashore and got some awesome pictures of Green Island and the reefs.
Again this was the best snorkeling of the trip. This time it held the title.
Around noon we were on-board and underway for a short hop to Mamora Bay. It was a quick, pleasant downwind hop and we were able to raise Shere Khan at around 1pm and confirm they were headed for Mamora bay as well. The entry was narrow and the marks that were on the chart were no longer there. We anchored in shallow enough water that I was able to dive on the anchor and everything looked good which went a long way to being able to relax quickly.
We did more snorkeling at the reefs just outside of Mamora Bay which, in the waning light, wasn’t that good and was rather challenging given the sea conditions and current. We had dinner ashore at the St. James Resort which wasn’t spectacular but the resort was pretty and interesting to see.
Day 9 – Sunday:
Nine days in paradise! Alas it was time to head back. We got everything ready and on our way once coffee was distributed.
Shere Khan had to leave early to catch earlier flights and we inherited two of their crew who wanted to ride on the catamaran and didn’t have early flights to catch. With 10 aboard Teranga III was still very spacious under sail. It was a short hop back to English Harbor but I really got to appreciate the beauty of the harbor on the way in this time having become quite comfortable handling the boat.
We had a lot of extra party favors that we had no reason to take back to the states that Gurhan had the bright idea of giving to one of the Sunsail staff. She was very grateful and reciprocated by giving us some Antigua Sailing Week hats and getting us some conch shells and markers so we could join their Sunsail’s garden of happy charterers. Between this, water from some coconuts she opened for us and some Carib’s we basically started another party right there next to the boat.
I had an absolute blast but I knew that would be the case. I learned a bit about how to sail a cruising catamaran and what the Caribbean is like in less than ideal swell conditions. I learned that I need to take a free-diving class so that diving on the anchor becomes more feasible.
The thing I am happiest about, though, is that everyone else who came along had a good time. How do I know? Because most of them have already asked me when the next charter is; people are volunteering to help research, plan or skipper the next trips. I think they’ve been bitten by the bug. Bareboat chartering has become my favorite way to travel with my friends and my friends are all beginning to agree!