Antigua: Going Ashore
Entering Jolly Harbor after 14 days of being engulfed in blue is like seeing a rainbow after a storm. The small waterfront homes that line the channel to the harbor are grouped by color. Each cluster of pink and blue and green homes has a boat docked just a few feet from its back door. Fingers branch off from the main channel like a neighborhood of cul-de-sacs. We’re giddy at the thought of being back on land, but also apprehensive about re-entry.
We arrive in Antigua just after the Customs office closed so going ashore will have to wait until morning. Just as well—we’re happy to have one final night to ourselves. We cheerfully gather upstairs on the sundeck with a bottle of champagne and toast the safe completion of our off-shore passage. We notice that Baloo is moored just next to us and delighted when Mr. and Mrs. Baloo pull up in their dinghy and join in our celebration. Finally, we meet Bob and Ann—the faces behind the VHF radio voices we had come to know so well during our journey.
Only the Captain is allowed ashore until the Port Authority deems us fit to visit. At 8am sharp the next morning, Allen knocks on the Customs door while the rest of watch anxiously from our boat. Two hours later and many forms completed, Allen finally emerges from Customs and Immigration declaring we are now free to roam on Antigua soil.
Dot, however, requires further scrutiny. A local veterinarian will examine our feline and hopefully deem her worthy to visit. Later, when I see a colony of feral cats running freely at the marina, no doubt covered in fleas and tapeworm, I laugh at this entire process for clearing a cat who probably will never appear from the closet on our boat. Sigh.
Over the next few days, we scrub the boat clean of salt residue, lavish in being served meals that don’t slide off the table, and learn how to walk in shoes again. The heat and humidity are stifling, but we relish the first moments of exploring this quaint island of 365 beaches—one for every day of the year. Yann has just one day before returning to France so he, Jim, and I leave the Captain and tour the island. Apparently, because Jim can fly an airplane, he’s declared the logical person to drive the rental car. I want no business driving a car on the left-side of the road and quickly take a seat in the back after a few minutes of witnessing local drivers weave in and out of traffic and pedestrians. It takes about 30 minutes to learn look right then left and find our way out of the marina, but after that Jim successfully navigates the tiny roads to the island hotspots.
Our first stop was the historic Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbor, home to one of Britain’s main naval stations in the 16th century. This is definitely a top attraction in Antigua and worth a stop for those of you planning a visit to Antigua. The highlight of the day for me, however, was sitting outside under a covered patio having a cold beer. We were racking our brains about some piece of trivia, as often happens in the company of Jim Moore, when a man tapped me on the shoulder and whispered the answer. He quickly apologized for eavesdropping and we quickly turned our chairs and engaged in a conversation that could have kept us entertained for hours. Our fellow patron and his wife were enjoying a little respite from their lives as restauranteurs in their Scottish homeland—the smallest, northernmost island where they serve only the locals, since most tourists can’t even locate the island on a map. They were enchanting, interesting, and a reminder that you meet the most interesting people when you simply ask, “Where are you from?”
After Jim and Yann departed for their homelands, Allen and I settled into getting to know our new homeland. We sailed first to Falmouth and English Harbors where most boats from our rally were arriving from their passages. Each morning on the VHF radio, we would listen with anticipation and delight as the Salty Dawg net would announce new arrivals. Receptions, cocktails parties, dinners, beach potlucks, and yoga gave us a taste of how liveaboards socialize. My favorite is when someone in a dinghy just shows up at the back of your boat to say hello; reminds me of the old days when we simply wandered next door to hang out with our neighbors instead of the present requirement of scheduling an official play date.
High on our list of priorities in Antigua, however, was to replace our failed emergency hatch. The new hatch finally arrived, secured from Customs, and ready to install. The repair required once again that we take poor Gémeaux out of the water to access her underbelly.
We sailed to North Sound Marina, the only marina on the island that has the ability to haul out a boat with a 24-foot beam. It happens also to be the designated salvage marina for the Moorings charter boats that were destroyed by Irma in St. Martin. This rips your heart out when you see these beautiful boats lying in a heap. Our hatch repair occurred on Thanksgiving Day so we spent the day prying out the old frame and bits of worn adhesive residue and gave thanks to our new, well-sealed hatch. We wandered the dockyard to find public showers and cleaned up for our Thanksgiving feast of grilled turkey breast, instant mashed potatoes, and broccoli. Champagne helped us imagine the bright fluorescent light in the dockyard was the moon and that we were surrounded by the turquoise Caribbean water, instead of being perched on stilts 20 feet above ground.
Gémeaux once again was deemed seaworthy so we set out to explore those 365 beaches. The quiet of some of the remote anchorages was such a contrast to the constant chatter of four people on a boat and our new social network of fellow sailors. We savored the tranquility and simplicity of life.
Want to snorkel? Should we go for a little hike? How about some lunch? Should I paddle board to the west or east side of the beach? Want to stay another night or move somewhere else?
We loved exploring Deep Bay, Green Island, and Great Bird Island and all their secrets of historic remnants and coral reefs. Occasionally, we would run into another Salty Dawger and would enjoy exchanging stories of great snorkeling spots or share a sundowner, as our English friends on Two Drifters would say. We are now docked at the Jolly Harbor Marina, where Gémeaux will reside while we fly back to the States for the holidays.
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