Throwback Thursdays – 365 beaches on Antigua

Antigua was the island of super yachts and posh hotels

We were in Antigua for well over two weeks hence splitting this blog post up into two! While I really enjoyed our time there, strangely, I don’t have any real desire to go back, and if I were to recommend places to go in the Caribbean, I would recommend Nevis instead… Having said that, lots happened in Antigua so this blogpost is long – sorry!

We sailed up to Antigua and came into Falmouth marina, part of a huge bay with several different marinas within it. Falmouth happened to be a superyacht haven where we felt incredibly out of place in our little Triple D.

The first Triple D disaster happened before we had even stepped foot on shore. We were mooring up – mum at the helm, myself on the bow (the front of the boat) and Jilli on the stern (the back). There were a few people around on the pontoon to catch our lines. Jilli threw the stern line and missed – it landed with a plop into the water. She tried to pull it back in but it wouldn’t come for ages – it was stuck around the propeller of the engine and therefore limiting our ability to manoeuvre. The back of the boat was drifting out with the wind towards a beautiful old wooden yacht. Within seconds its side was filled with about twenty crew members- all young people in their early twenties wearing a matching uniform of beige shorts and navy polo-shirts. They protected their boat, pushed us off and helped us get properly moored up.

Falmouth Harbour was a very basic marina, which surprised us due to its cost – but then super yachts don’t need any facilities as they have everything on board, much nicer than the smartest of marinas!

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As we were about one tenth the size of the rest of the boats, it really wasn’t designed for us, and it made getting on and off the boat pretty tricky…. we had to climb down into the dinghy (all shown in the picture below), then put one hand up on the pontoon and use the ladder that is dangling from the rope to try and climb out! Of course, Triple D Disaster number 12 occurred one night, in the dark, trying to climb back down when mum fell and landed in the water in the bottom of the dinghy! Luckily nobody saw…

On our first evening we walked along to English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard, described in the guidebook as the one place you must visit in Antigua. Well, we did visit at the wrong time, as it had just got dark and the place was deserted, but I wasn’t that impressed. The old stone buildings and the cobbled streets were beautiful, but it was as if it had been renovated too well – it smacked of ‘ye olde worlde’ charm and was a bit kitsch, what with the red English letter boxes and phone boxes.

After a few days settling in, Jilli and I left the boat to spend a week with our dad, a few days at Blue Waters Hotel and then a few at Carlisle Bay Hotel. We spent our time mainly relaxing, reading, and eating far too much food at the buffet. On our way to the second hotel, we got talking to our taxi driver, Stanley. He pointed out things of note as we drove through the island – the last sugar factory, finally abandoned in the 1960s, due to competition from sugar beet and the fact that “the young people today, they don’t want to do that kind of work”. The primary school built with money from the British before independence. The cricket stadium, huge and gleaming, an anachronism, able to withstand hurricanes, although it hasn’t yet been properly tested. The steep, winding road that used to be surrounded by huge banana plants. Antigua’s main industry nowadays is tourism.

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After a week of holiday, I went back to the boat, feeling thoroughly spoilt and annoyed anew at the creaking, the tiny bathroom and the lack of Internet. We had some boat chores to do, so first I was sent up the mast to fix the jib. I loved going up the mast and it had become my responsibility. We had a little seat that attached to one of the ropes so I could climb up, while mum took up the slack in the rope, and then she would tie it off when I reached the top and I could hang there while working. It was always slightly scary as any small roll of the boat at deck level is magnified hugely the higher up you go!

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One Sunday night we went up to Shirley Heights, a stunning lookout point which turns into a massive party at sunset on a Sunday. It is an old fort on top of a spit of land, looking out towards Montserrat and the setting sun, and then on the other side, a bird’s eye view of English and Falmouth Harbour, with all the yachts in their marinas and anchored. It is an amazing view, words can’t do it justice! There were so many people there, a few locals, lots of drunk yachties and some American tourists. It was a great drunken atmosphere with lots of dancing to a steel drum band.

From Falmouth Harbour, we sailed up the coast to Jolly Harbour, where the water gets extremely shallow because of the reef, and also very chalky, making it an absolutely gorgeous picture-perfect turquoise colour. And the sand was so white it seemed to glow in the sun. The marina at Jolly Harbour was our first taste of something that seemed extremely American, but Triple D felt much happier being around boats of a similar size! At that point (almost five years ago now) it was a brand new marina with a little complex of restaurants and cafes (most with wifi access – the most important thing when you are away for a year!), souvenir shops, car rental etc. There was also a big supermarket only two minutes walk away, so it was the perfect spot for us.

One evening we went up for a drink at a marina bar and got talking to a few slightly drunk and friendly Antiguan men, one in particular called Travis, who was full of cliched stock phrases with important meanings nonetheless – “money is nothing, money is not important, just relax man” – and about racism, “white, black, chinese, we are all one, man, made by the same man, we are all brothers“.

Travis announced proudly that he had never been in prison, although a lot of his friends had, for drug-related offences, and told us of the peer pressure on the island to get involved in that sort of thing. He told us that so many people go on about slavery and obsess over it still, but Travis doesn’t – it was so long ago, white people don’t think about their ancestors, so why should he? “We can’t keep blaming slavery for our problems“. (Although, of course, perhaps even the act of Travis telling two white people he had just met that he doesn’t obsess over slavery shows that it was on his mind in one form or another).

Travis introduced us to a friend – “this is my cousin!” – “I not your cousin, I yo brother!” The friend seemed quite out of it, very slow to respond, very drunk, and was playing pool in the weekly tournament in the tavern.

“You know what I’m ging to do with the money if I win?”
“What?”
“No, I can’t tell you….”
“Well, if you can’t tell me, you probably shouldn’t spend your money on it” I suggested affably.
“I’m going to the titty bar in St Johns. I am going to get me some girls, to dance with their big tittys…”
“Ah okay, okay, that’s enough detail!”

Travis laughed. “Too much information bro, T.M.I. That’s her mom you talking to!”

We were actually at the bar to meet up for drinks with a few yachties – people who make their living working on boats and sailing them around the world. We swapped customs horror stories (actually, we just listened in as most of our experiences with customs had not been too bad – in the Caribbean you are constantly leaving and entering different countries as you sail from one island to another which means LOTS of time spent in customs offices).

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One of the men, a white Antiguan national with a strong British accent littered with swear words had had his boat impounded because he had brought too much into the country on it. Customs in Jolly Harbour had a reputation for being very strict and unfriendly, following the rules and bureaucracy – we found this a few days later when mum went to do the customs to leave Antigua. Another Triple D disaster – she had gotten off the boat without her shoes on (easier to do in boat-life than in normal!) and wasn’t allowed into the customs office to sign the forms without her shoes!

A few days later we sailed up the coast to the north of the island. Everyone in Antigua kept telling us there were 365 beaches on the island, one for every day of the year, which, surprisingly enough, is the exact same number of rivers in Dominica (apparently)! The north of Antigua was a mass of bays, tiny islands and reefs. It would have been stunning if it wasn’t for the quite heavily built-up coastline with hotel resorts! Prickly Pear Island is a beautiful tiny crop of land – a rocky bluff with some vegetation on top of it, and a tiny strip of white sand with a beach bar shack. Nor a soul was on it as we sailed past – your picture perfect deserted Caribbean island!

We stayed the night at Redcliff Quay, right in amongst the cruise ship docks – a huge cruise ship left shortly after we had arrived, its horn filling the air. It was a great place to moor, absolutely free and very handy for exploring St. Johns, although we were a little more concerned about safety than we usually were, even locking the boat at night.

The part of St Johns by the cruiseship dock was completely empty when there were no cruise ships – more posh shops selling diamonds and watches, impeccably clean streets and not a single person to be seen. It makes me really sad when people talk about cruises around the Caribbean, as the cruise ship docks tended to be our least favourite parts of the islands we visited! As we walked away from that part of town it got busier and busier, and as we reached the market area it was positively heaving, with many people on the streets playing loud music, talking, shouting, laughing. We were searching for the supermarket, looking a bit lost, and a guy in his car crawling through busy streets shouted “are you lost?” out of his window and then proceeded to give us detailed directions. We were pretty sure that would not have happened in a busy part of town in England!

From Antigua, Jilli and mum sailed onwards by themselves to Statia, St Barts and St Maartens. I flew back to the UK for two weeks with James in a flat in Elephant & Castle where ice formed on the INSIDE of the windows. Quite a shock to the system!

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