Monday, March 19, 2007

Nelson Dockyard

March 18, 2007  Sunday
Falmouth Harbour, Antigua
17.00.784N; 61.46.609W            Sailed 22NM

Five Islands Harbour was so nice that we stayed anchored there for 2 nights.  Especially nice that we have free WiFi broadband from the new resort hotel there.  Never did find out the name of the place but it looked like a great place to honeymoon.  The bay is over one mile wide and two miles long.  On Friday we were the only boat anchored in the entire bay and we loved the solitude.  On Saturday a very large crewed sailboat arrived – and anchored practically right on top of us.  They could have anchored anywhere in that large bay; don’t know why they felt the need to be 20 feet from our stern and looking down into our cockpit.  Herd mentality, we guess.  Later a few more boats arrived and spread their anchoring around the bay a bit.  So much for our solitude.

Also on Saturday the sky was very hazy and there was some sort of ash blowing in the breeze.  We had to close all the hatches as it was getting on our Ultrasuede upholstery inside the boat and creating a mess.  Judy vacuumed up all the stray bits of black ash and then we put the mosquito nets up so that we could open a few hatches for ventilation.  We don’t think this ash was coming from the volcano on Montserrat because the wind was coming from the SE and Montserrat is west of Antigua.  Plus this ash was black and volcanic ash should have been white or light gray.  Anyway, it was messy and lasted most of the day.

This morning the sky was clearer, but still a little hazy.  We decided to move to English Harbour so that we can visit the Nelson Dockyard tomorrow.  It was a wonderful fast sail doing 8 to 8 ½ knots for about halfway; then a motor directly into 20 knot winds and rough seas for the last half. 

Antigua is not our favorite place for sailing.  There are too many spots that are only 2.7 meters deep and our draft is 2.05 meters.  You can be kicking along in 10 meters of water and suddenly it is 2.7 meters!  Judy does not like that at all and even Bill gets a bit of pucker affect when the depth gauge suddenly reads zero.  Our depth gauge reads in meters, not feet; and is set to display actual depth under keel, not the depth from water surface.  So when it reads zero, it does mean that there is something less than one meter water under our keel.  When that happens it is very disconcerting!  So we sailed out away from the island to get into somewhat safer water depths. 

The seas on the southern side of the island are quite rough.  Just not a good sailing area.  We entered English Harbour and looked around for about 30 seconds before deciding that it was way too crowded for our comfort level.  Looked like a number of boats were on permanent moorings or permanent anchors.  So we turned right back out and backtracked over to Falmouth Harbour.

We found the perfect anchoring spot just inside the second green marker on the channel to the right side of Falmouth Harbour.  Anchoring this far out means a longer dinghy ride to shore, but that is fine with us.  In fact, it is even preferred by us.  Would rather have a longer ride to shore than to be anchored up closer and more crowded. 

Bill stood on the bow and put a buoy over our anchor while Judy lowered the anchor from the helm.  This buoy serves two purposes: it floats over our anchor and marks where the anchor is actually set, and it also can act as a trip line in case we encounter problems raising the anchor when it is time to leave.   Pierre on S/V Lady Annabelle told us how his anchor was fouled in Falmouth Harbour by old chain when he was here in January.  Pierre had to hire a diver at a cost of $100 USD to get his anchor clear.  So, putting a trip line is a good idea.  Who knows how much crap is at the bottom of this harbor.  After all, the British Navy was using this harbor as a hurricane hole as far back as the 1700s.  No telling what kind of stuff has been abandoned underwater over the past 300 years.

March 19, 2007  Monday
Today we visited the Nelson Dockyard.  We left the dinghy at the Cataraman Club Marina dinghy dock and were waiting on the main road for a bus when a very nice local man offered us a ride to the Dockyard.  He said the buses don’t run regularly and we might have had to wait an hour or more.  So he saved us the price of a private taxi.  Much later in the day we found out that if we leave the dinghy at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina then it is just a very short walk over to English Harbor and the Dockyard.  There are three little marinas here in Falmouth Harbour, two of which cater to the mega-yachts.  There are some huge sailboats and motor yachts here.

Which brings up something that has become an annoyance to Judy.  These red anchor lights that the large sailboats are using are just wrong, wrong, wrong.  Lights on all vessels are regulated internationally by COLREGS.  Absolutely nothing in COLREGS states that a vessel can use an all-round red as an anchor light; it is supposed to be an all-round white light.  There are other requirements for vessels 20 meters and longer to have an all-round red (or two) for other reasons, but the anchor light is always supposed to be white.  There are obvious reasons for the need for uniformity in lighting.  For example, there are many harbors that have red lights placed on land that vessels entering harbors at night must line up with in order to follow the correct entry channel.  This is true for English Harbour.  There are three red lights going up the mountainside that an entering vessel lines up with at they approach the very tricky entrance to that harbor.  Well, when there are large boats anchored in the harbor displaying these silly red anchor lights then it becomes impossible to find the correct three red lights to ensure safe entry.  These red anchor lights are dangerous and this practice needs to be stopped before it gains any further in popularity.

Nelson’s Dockyard was interesting to us, especially since we have been reading Patrick O’Brian’s 21 book series about Capt Jack Aubrey during that period of British Naval history.  (Judy is now on the final book and will miss this series; wish it continued further)   The British began to use English Harbour as a hurricane haven as far back as 1671.  They began to use it as a Naval Dockyard in 1725.  Captain Nelson was made temporary Commander of the Leeward Islands Station for the period of 1784-1787, but the Dockyard was actually established in 1743 by Commodore Charles Knowles and it remained in use until the Royal Navy closed it in 1889.  In 1951 the jFriends of English Harbour formed a mission to reconstruct the Dockyard and it reopened in 1961.  Now it is part of the Antigua and Barbuda National Parks Authority.  This is the only Georgian Naval Dockyard in the world today.

Sunsail has a charter base located right in the Dockyard.  They only had three boats docked there, so it is an exceptionally tiny charter base, but in a very unique location.  And an expensive location.  Sales tax is 15% here in Antigua, and that is in addition to the duty already added into the price of everything.  There were a couple of restaurants in the Dockyard.  We found that the least expensive place for lunch was the bakery located behind the museum.  So we bought a couple of burgers and drinks at the bakery and sat at a park bench and enjoyed the beautiful setting under an enormous ancient tree amongst the old stone buildings.

We walked around the quay and admired the gorgeous large sailboats moored there, each one with a crew dutifully detailing those lovely boats.  Watched one 50-ft sailboat trying to extricate his fouled anchor when he unmoored from the quay.  Guess he didn’t want to spend the $100 to have the diver retrieve his fouled anchor.  He turned circles while letting out chain and taking in chain, and it appeared that eventually he did manage to get the anchor free.  

Then we took a taxi up the hill to the Interpretation Center.  The guidebook recommended the multi-media video about the history of Antigua that is shown there.  The guidebook also says that it would be a 15 minute walk up the hill to the Interpretation Center.  Yeah; right!  That taxi was worth every cent of his fee.   If we had attempted this walk then we would have turned around after going less than 25% of the distance.   The video presentation was okay but the real reason to go up there is the view.  It does give a different perspective of English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour, as well as Indian Creek and Mamoa Bay and a some of the eastern side of Antigua.

We were curious as to what the depth of the entrance of English Harbour was back in the 1700s, but the tour guide did not have that information.  The entrance depth is 3 ½ - 4 ½ meters, and those old frigates and men-of-wars could not have negotiated that shallow.   The harbor entrance was guarded by Fort Berkeley on the western side and Fort Charlotte on the eastern side.  Fort Charlotte was destroyed in 1843 in an earthquake and it appears the submerged ruins of Fort Charlotte and silting resulting from storms over the past several centuries have filled in the harbor entrance.   It must have been deeper 300 years ago or those old ships could never have entered this harbor.

Late in the afternoon we took the dinghy over to the Antigua Yacht Club Marina because we wanted to visit a store that will embroider hats and shirts with our boat name.  Found the type caps we like and Judy found a couple of sleeveless polo shirts in her size, but the woman who operates the embroidery machine wasn’t working today, so we have go return there on Wednesday morning to select fonts and thread colors.  Hope she doesn’t have a backlog of work to be done so that she can whip this small job out for us in short order.

Last night we treated ourselves to a nice dinner in a nice restaurant – the Antigua Yacht Club Marina restaurant.  The upstairs is supposed to be private, members only, according to our sailing guide; but this is not true.  We were seated in a choice location and there was a pretty view.  The restaurant was well decorated and typical Caribbean open-air to enjoy the evening and the scenery.  We each had seven pieces of beautifully presented sushi and one glass of Grey Goose on-the-rocks, and the tab including gratuity was $100 USD.   In Houston at the nicest sushi restaurant this meal would have cost $65-$70 including tip; so you can see that Antigua is a bit on the expensive side but not totally exorbitant.  It was a lovely evening.

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