08 February 2020

...And Barbuda

The name of the country is Antigua and Barbuda, but in all the previous times we've been to Antigua, we've never visited this island until now.  It's not the easiest place to get to or be at in a sailboat but if you make the effort, it can be really worth the visit.


Capt. Bob

Getting there

We were thinking that the rest of the trip home would be a downwind ride once we got to Antigua. Adding Barbuda to the plan made for one more upwind sail as you head due north (actually about 008 degrees) from the west coast of Antigua for about 30 nautical miles to Barbuda.

Our track from Deep Bay in Antigua to Coco Point in Barbuda


Most of the coast of Barbuda is lined with coral reefs and there are areas of uncharted coral heads. It is best approached (and departed) in good light with a person on the bow looking for obstructions by reading the color of the water. Because of these hazards and the fact that Barbuda is such a low-lying island, there are famously said to be 200 shipwrecks around it. The idea is to not be the two hundred first.

"Eyeball Navigation" as we approach Coco Point

You don't see land until you are within just a few miles of Barbuda. Immediately, you are reminded of the Bahamas with low-lying land, beautiful water and those reefs and coral head hazards.

Fitting Barbuda Into Our Itinerary

Our plan was to leave from Barbuda and head west to our next destination (at the time thinking Nevis/St Kitts). This can potentially cause one more complication. While Barbuda has a Customs office (next to the air strip), they do not have a Port Authority.  So if you're leaving the country of Antigua and Barbuda from Barbuda, you have to do your port checkout in Antigua before you go to Barbuda. Luckily, Linda made a phone call and found out this bit of trivia before we found out the hard way.

A striking rainbow at Coco Point

The Weird Weather

One reason we decided to add Barbuda to our plan was that we were in for spell of some very strange weather in that part of the Caribbean. The forecast was for very light and variable winds from various directions for the next week plus. This is in stark contrast to the usual nearly constant East Trade winds that are whipping through here. We liked the sound of the "light" part, because there is not a lot of great shelter to anchor in around Barbuda. But as it turned out, the "various directions" part caused some complication in Barbuda.

This massive Low in the Atlantic was sucking air from our latitude causing a major dead spot for about a week

Light wind from the southwest?  Yes it was.


Anchored in Low Bay outside Codrington Lagoon. This picture looks deceivingly calm as conditions were fairly rolly due to the swells from the west.


The Bar Is Open

In 2017, Hurricane Irma devastated Barbuda although it largely spared Antigua. Along with causing major property damage which we'll see below, Irma breached the thin sand spit that separated the Caribbean Sea from the huge Codrington Lagoon on the northwest part of the island. The Lagoon was always a salt water body, but this created a new large opening to the lagoon which small skiffs and dinghies can transit. Well, it looks large but there is actually a relatively narrow part that is deep enough and lacks breaking waves to make a safe passage.

We were anchored in Low Bay just outside of the bar and this opening gave us relatively easy access to Codrington (the only town and where the majority of residents live).  Even then, it was nearly a three mile dinghy ride in total because that lagoon is huge!

Remember the bit about the weird weather?  Well at the time, wind and swell was coming from the SW which not only made our anchorage really uncomfortable, but made for some serious breaking waves over the bar. The first time we went through, we had the foresight to record a track on the Navionics Mobile App which would show the safe opening location. As we passed through the opening, we were surfing in the dinghy in some pretty big swell and waves were breaking very hard to the north and south of us.

The track we recorded from the dinghy going through the breach. Navionics still shows it as a solid sandbar.

It turned out to be a very good thing we had that track because we ended up returning to Argon well after dark that night. The safe opening in the bar is not marked with any sort of buoy much less anything lit. Without this track, it would have been impossible to return to the boat safely!

A floating boat fender which marks the approximate location of the safe passage through the breach. This is shot from inside the lagoon looking at the bar and you can see the waves breaking over the bar.

The Lifestyle and History

Barbuda was originally purchased from England by Christopher Codrington (hence the town's name) allegedly for the price of one fat sheep. There is a disputed belief that Codrington was in the business of breeding slaves. There is no doubt that there was slavery on Barbuda (like the rest of the Caribbean). When England emancipated the slaves in 1834, it did not include Barbuda, but Barbuda emancipated at the same time anyway. Many of the slaves stayed and worked for their former owners.

Barbudians are the most friendly people you will meet anywhere in the Caribbean (and that's a high bar). They love living simple lives on their isolated island. Many people could easily live in the more first-world Antigua (or many other places) but don't. Many have lived elsewhere and returned.
  
Buying fresh produce in Codrington from Talene
There is some political turmoil and animosity toward Antigua from many Barbudians. The feeling is that Antigua is using the relief efforts post-Irma to coerce Barbuda into changing its way of life. Many (most) Barbudians don't want to see the island turned into a tourist trap. They live communally and there is no concept of property ownership. Every Barbudian is entitled to a plot of land for residential, agricultural or business use.

Codrington Traffic Jam
Some of the many horses came to the beach at Coco Point at sunrise

The few resorts (and former wrecked resorts) are not on purchased property. The owners can lease some land for up to 99 years but that's it. In reality, the chances of a resort lasting that long between major hurricanes is probably quite slim. There is a controversial deal in the works with Robert Di Niro trying to rebuild one of the former resorts.

On the other side of the coin, there are some Bardudians who would like to try to establish some commerce and get more money flowing into the country. They want to do it in a way that is sensitive to the communal way of life. 


Kids fishing in the lagoon at the town dock. A wrecked resort on the bar is in the background
At Timbuck One - a surprisingly first-world bar/restaurant
We hung out with Byron, Ester and Ivory at the Green Door

George Jeffrey

If you go to Barbuda, you will more than likely connect with George. One must-do if you go to Barbuda (which sadly we didn't do) is the Frigate Bird Sanctuary. It is the largest in the world and George is famous for his tours of it. Besides that, he will give you a lift from your boat into town (sparing you the risk of finding that opening yourself). George is a Barbudian through and through and really wants to preserve the way of life on the island.

George giving Linda a lift to town to clear out of customs on our last day

Uncle Roddy's

Roddy's is a famous stop for visitors to Barbuda. It's a great hang-out bar, amazing restaurant and offers some beautiful guest houses. Roddy's is now run by Kelcina (Roddy's Daughter) and husband Oliver and they are still in the process of rebuilding/re-establishing after Irma. We did a land tour and hike with their son Chris. Chris helps out running Roddy's and the guest houses and a general go-to guy for about anything. He's also a very cool dude and we could have hung out with him much more!

Inside Uncle Roddy's. We were there just prior to their official post-hurricane re-opening.

Chris with his favorite vehicle

The Guest Houses at Roddy's

Ruins of Codrington's estate in the highlands (125' elevation)

The Sinkhole - a dramatic 80' deep hole. Now with trees growing up to the rim

Linda posing with Chris the tour guide

Besides a little bit of tourism, a primary source of revenue for Barbuda is selling sand. Love those pictures of white sandy beaches in the US Virgin Islands? Much of that sand comes from Barbuda! There was a sand barge being loaded while we were there. Selling sand is not sustainable and they know it. But for now, it's a primary source of badly needed revenue.

Flatland

Barbuda is very flat. The area known as "The Highlands" has a lofty elevation of 125 feet above sea level. This is where Codrington built his estate.

Taken from the highlands zoomed in. That mast is Argon on the other side of the bar about four miles away. No other boats in sight. You can see the waves breaking over the breach to the right

Irma Aftermath

When Irma hit, all of the 1700 residents evacuated and moved to Antigua but since then, most have returned. The devastation was incredible. Apart from the natural damage to the lagoon bar and many palm trees, the town of Codrington was clobbered. Many people are still living in disaster relief tents outside of their former homes. There is a single diesel power generator which supplies the whole island, but some folks who choose to live outside of Codrington, are still without power.

Various aid organizations have been helping and you can see tarps and tents with various logos from these organizations. One strange thing we noticed was that many wrecked houses had brand new windows. It seems that someone must have donated a lot of windows.

A church with the roof still gone

House with no roof but new windows

Still some folks in disaster relief tents. There is no insurance here.Those who can't afford to rebuild, have no choice.

Stop sign bent by the force of Irma

Another one of the many houses with no roof

Has potential
Swells eased at the end of our five day stay and we enjoyed still water on our final day.





Enjoyable meet up on our last evening with friends John and Victoria from s/v Jovini

Moving on

Another slight complication.  Apart from Antigua, any place you might want to go next is too far to sail to if one leaves when the sun is high (recommended for navigating the shallows and corals) and arrive at the new destination before dark.

Our solution was to choose a path out of the anchorage that got into good water as soon as possible and preview that path during the day in the dinghy while looking for coral heads. This would give us some confidence to leave in the dark early the next morning. The Navionics charts had two suggested courses out of Low Bay, but we noticed that the location of some reefs was drawn a little more to the south in the NV charts. We decided to err on the side of the more southern course and run that down with the dinghy in the light. We didn't see any sort of hazard at all along this track. A few times, we stopped and dropped our anchor over to sanity check the depths too.

Track recorded from the dinghy the day before departing so we could safety leave in the dark the next morning

Motoring out at 05:00 very slowly following the dinghy track we recorded the previous day.
After considering several options:  St Kitts, St Eustatia, St Maarten, we decided to make the next destination St Maarten. Winds were still a little light the day we left so we ultimately shortened our passage by making a sleep-over stop in St Barts. We proceeded to St Maarten the next morning.

Easy but long downwind sail with St Barts up ahead











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