18 Feb 2019 – playing boats in Antigua


February 22nd, 2019


Caribbean – Leeward Islands, North Atlantic 2017 – 2019

Written by

Richard Farrington

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By Richard. Posted on February 22nd, 2019 in Caribbean – Leeward Islands, North Atlantic 2017 – 2019.

17:04.4N  61:53.75W

On Thursday 7th, we set off north to Antigua.  Half a mile out to sea, as Julie filled in the log, she realised that we had not completed our Immigration and Customs formalities.  Whilst the French might have been fairly relaxed, we knew that the Antiguans would not be, so we turned back.  The rubber dinghy was deflated and stowed on the quarterdeck, so I manoeuvred Escapade to within a boatlength of the end of the pier at Deshaies and Julie swam ashore, carrying our paperwork and a dress in a waterproof bag!  She stood dripping in the Pelican boutique, trying not to attract too much attention from the owner, as she waited to check out using the very efficient French computerised system.  Twenty minutes later as she returned onboard, another boat owner asked if we had lost our dinghy.  I mumbled something and gunned the throttle towards the open sea.

We had a lovely sail north to Jolly Harbour, with 15 knots of breeze from the east and full main and genoa set.  The boat loved it, Julie made more tiffin, I caught a lot of Sargasso weed on my ‘unbeatable’ lure and we filled the fresh water tanks.  We arrived at the anchorage outside Jolly Harbour an hour before dark and went over to see our friends Andrew and Kate Mulloch aboard ‘Wildside’.  We had not seen them since Charleston in the early Summer, so had much to catch up on!

Also in Jolly Harbour were Paul and Bas Watkins aboard ‘Lyra Magna’ and Des and Chris Meehan aboard ‘Cloud 9 of Kingswear’.  Paul managed to get us a ride on a yacht racing in the Jolly Harbour Yacht Club Valentines Regatta, so on Saturday morning we took the dinghy in to the North Beach side of the harbour and found the Miramar Sailing School run by Brian and Pippa Turton.  Pippa was skippering their Grand Soleil 46 in the RORC Caribbean 600 race the following week with an all-girl crew, so this weekend was an opportunity to shake the boat down and find any gremlins before the crew turned up in the week.  The boat was called Phoenix and she was dark blue – so we felt immediately at home!


Racing aboard Phoenix (Grand Soleil 46.3) in the Valentines Regatta

The racing took place in Five Islands Bay, just to the north of Jolly Harbour.  It’s a great piece of water with some very attractive beaches and promising anchorages all around.  We didn’t have much time to survey them though as I found myself part foredeck monkey, part mastman, part spinnaker trimmer and part crew-boss (self-appointed).  Julie was part of the genoa trimming and spinnaker guy team, who were an amusing mix of ex-pat Antiguan residents, a Polish girl trying to make a living as a professional yachtie and an English girl working for Miramar as an instructor for the season.  It was knackering.  Winds over twenty knots for two days, quite a lot of sail up and several breakages to contend with, so we slept well at night!  The boat was in the wrong class really, so we weren’t at all competitive, but we really enjoyed sailing on somebody else’s boat for the first time in ages.  Makes you reassess your own boat and way of doing things…

The social side of the weekend was outstanding and we opened up some very useful leads on possible moorings for Escapade for when we return to England at the end of the month.  Jolly Harbour turns out to be the winter retreat for a great gaggle of Solent folk and it was a continual surprise to meet people who knew people we knew – that old adage about being linked to everyone else by not many strands is certainly true!  

Monday 11 February was largely taken up with trying to identify a berth for Escapade in Jolly Harbour whilst we return to UK for a while.  The marina is a failsafe ‘backstop’, but they would not allow us to take one of their swinging moorings and leave the boat unattended overnight.  With the invaluable assistance of Tim Richards, one of the Phoenix crew from the weekend (who happens to be a hydrographic surveyor) we visited a handful of potential private docks around the complex.  Our friend Miles, who we met in the BVIs over Christmas, had offered us use of his facilities which turned out to be hugely impressive but sadly just too shallow for Escapade’s newly burnished keel.  Three other people offered us a dock through the wonders of Social Media – all looked feasible in one form or another.  Our other option was to take a swinging mooring in Falmouth harbour, on the south side of the island.  Increasingly, we favoured Jolly Harbour as we got to know more residents and were made to feel so welcome.    Eventually, after trialling the dock to make sure the boat would actually fit and not ground at low tide (the range is only about a foot…)  we made a suitable arrangement.

The week passed quickly in a whirl of social activities with our deployment sailing friends and our new Jolly Harbour friends and conducting some low-level maintenance.  For once, we have no defects and no outstanding servicing!  I’ll be going over the whole boat with a fine toothcomb before departing for the Azores in mid-April, but ahead of that, things look pretty straightforward just now.  [Ed: Gremlin alert!]


Superyachts, racing yachts, classic yachts… must be Falmouth, Antigua!

On Saturday we sailed south to Falmouth, partly for a change of view and partly to watch the start of the Caribbean 600. We found ourselves beating into a brisk south easterly with reefs in main and genoa, but in the lee of the island the seas were calm enough to run the watermaker and replenish our stocks.  Off Falmouth, in the big Atlantic swells, we came across a steady stream of offshore racing boats out practicing.  It was a fine sight and I wondered whether I should have tried to get a ride?  On reflection, we have a limited amount of time left before we have to fly home and I’d rather visit Barbuda and see the huge frigatebird colony there – I can go racing any time!


The view west from Shirley Heights: English Harbour in the foreground, Falmouth upper right.

Falmouth was busy, but it was nice to be back there.  We anchored in the western half of this huge natural harbour and went ashore to gawp at the expensive mix of megayachts (power and sail) and racing machines assembled from all over the world.  My favourite boat is the American racing machine ‘Bella Mente’ – we used to see earlier versions of the boat at Cowes each year and she must be one of the most elegant boats around.  We saw Pippa and the girls aboard Phoenix – one of the smallest boats in the race. We walked through to English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard, where the majority of boats were not racing, but the waterfront was just as busy: Antiguans varnishing and polishing the superyachts to within an inch of their lives, racing crews repairing damage, sails laid out on the lawns, a rowing boat from the Talisker Atlantic Challenge a reminder that oarpower is as high-tech as sailpower these days.  English Harbour really is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been; interesting to note that Nelson didn’t like it here much – too many mosquitos in those days.


Race Day morning aboard the American maxi ‘Bella Mente’

On Sunday we caught a water taxi over to Galleons Beach and climbed up to Shirley Heights, then down to the cliff edge and along to Point Charlotte before returning to the Cheeky Marlin beach bar for refreshment.  This is one of the nicest walks we have done in the Caribbean: interesting, slightly arid landscape and flora (particularly cacti) which is quite different from our Guadeloupe rainforest experiences only 50 miles to the south; stunning views of the two harbours and the rugged Antigua skyline behind, the busy waters below and the racing yachts out practising.  


Like spiky versions of the Easter Island statues, Turks Head cacti near Shirley Heights oversee yachts practising for the Caribbean 600


The Cheeky Marlin, Galleons Beach

We returned to Point Charlotte on Monday morning to watch the race start.  We found ourselves with our Jolly Harbour friends, several of whom had relatives racing.  Apart from Phoenix, we were particularly interested in the famous Scarlet Oyster, an Oyster Lightwave 48 – the racing version of Escapade.  Owned and sailed by Ross Applebey, she is probably the most successful Oyster on the racing circuit and a bit of a legend in this particular event.  With over 20 knots blowing from just north of east and 2-3m seas off the harbour, our clifftop vantage gave us a spectacular view of the boats as they rounded the pin end about 6 cables offshore and roared in under the cliffs, looking for a slight advantage, before tacking out to the east and away up towards Barbuda.  The fastest boats will finish this 600 mile race in under 36 hours; others like Phoenix and Scarlet Oyster will take around three days.  Two big trimarans were due to take part, but one of them, Argo, capsized during practicing and teams from North America and Antigua have been working hard to repair her.  The other boat, Maserati Gran Turismo, agreed to wait for them and they were due to have their own start later in the day.  Good to see a healthy Corinthian spirit amongst the professional racing community!


Ready, steady, GO… the big boats start

It was a great spectacle: not just the beauty of the Caribbean, but the clifftop view, the speed and power of the boats (most of whom have professional crews) and the wonderful majesty of the ocean combined to make it a splendid occasion.  We returned via the ‘Covent Garden’ supermarket  in Falmouth to stock up on fresh vegetables for our passage to Barbuda.  This proved to be a disappointing experience and I’m beginning to wonder about provisioning for the Azores passage in April.  At the big supermarket in Jolly Harbour, they tend to have tomatoes on one day, carrots on another… reminiscent of Cuba, but without the quality.  In Falmouth you pay ‘superyacht prices’ for rotting vegetables or frozen Wagyu beef at £100 per pound… and not much in between.  One option is to go back to Guadeloupe, or perhaps make a diversion to St Martin.  More research required!


The local flyboys foiling at speed

We sailed for Jolly Harbour at lunchtime.  Somewhere off Cade Reef, just off the southwest corner of Antigua, careering downsind in a big quartering sea with 25 knots of breeze, I heard a popping noise and looked back to see the rubber dinghy, which we had been towing, making a bid for freedom.  My well-drilled crew sprang to action, we conducted a textbook man-overboard exercise and had the offending Zodiac back onboard in under the Naval Standard five minutes.  The securing ring on the bow had parted – it’s over ten years old now and gets a hard paper round.  Lesson learned – again – though: towing a rubber boat in heavy seas is asking for trouble.  Fortunately it did not sink and the outboard was already aboard the yacht, so the only damage was to the securing ring and our pride. Minutes later, we resumed lunch and were heading north at 8 knots.  We arrived off Jolly Harbour in the late afternoon for a last social event with Wildside (headed to Panama and the Pacific), Lyra Magna (Cuba and Canada) and Escapade (Gosport and Brexit).