Monday, April 27, 2009

Antigua & Nelson's Dockyard in March 2007

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! I do not like that at all and even Bill gets a bit of pucker affect when the depth gauge suddenly reads zero. Our B&G 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. (Note: Before we got to the San Blas Islands in Panama Bill set our Raymarine autopilot display at the helm to have the option of displaying the depth in feet. I like this so much better and use it any time we get below 10 meters depth.)

We sailed to Antigua in March 2007 after leaving St. Barths. We cleared in at Jolly Harbour and that took most of a day. Then we moved to Five Bays and anchored there a few days before sailing south and east to English Harbour. 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 the much larger Falmouth Harbour just west of English 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 I lowered the anchor using the controls at 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 hereat the moment.

Which brings up something that has become an annoyance to me. 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 reasons that any vessel 20 meters or longer is required to also have an all-round red light (or two), 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 range 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. Some people have told me that the red lights are a requirement for any mast taller than 100 feet for aviation safety. I'm not buying that theory because the FAA and internation aviation safety requirements for lighting have been around for decades. And these red anchor lights are a new fad. I am certain of this because we have seen some large vessels now sporting red anchor lights that we have seen many times in past years using white anchor lights; for example, the Sea Cloud--the yacht built for Emily Merriweather Post in the 1930s. Sea Cloud is now using a red anchor light on each of her 3 masts; and we know for a fact that in past years those anchor lights were all white.

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. (I finally read final book and will miss this series; wish it continued further but the author died.) 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 Friends 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.

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 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.

We did not visit any more of Antigua during this trip. We found the Customs and Immigration officials very unfriendly and did not feel welcome. That attitude needs to change or it will eventually have a negative effect on their tourism business. And it appears that about the only thing this island has going for it is tourism, so they better change their attitudes and nuture that critical segment of their economy. After Antigua we sailed to Guadaloupe. We encounted many humpback whales during the sail to Guadaloupe. A fantastic experience when a few were very close to us.

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