Showing posts with label Argon Sailing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Argon Sailing. Show all posts

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.


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

04 February 2020

Antigua Again

Perhaps because we have spent more time on this island than anywhere else in the Caribbean (4+ months over 3 trips), or maybe it is the genuine friendly nature of people, or the vibrant sailing culture, or the beautiful land and harbors... Antigua feels like home in the Caribbean.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Once a British colony, Antigua has been independent for 40 years but maintains close ties with the UK. Many British have relocated to Antigua or have vacation homes here. Almost half of its population of 80,000 lives in the capital area of St. John on the northwest side of the island. The topography is an interesting mix of modest mountainous rain forest, low brushy hills, dramatic rocky coast, and inviting sandy beaches. Most of our time is spent in the nautical southern quadrant in English and Falmouth Harbors although we expanded our horizons this trip a bit.

Sailing high in to the easterlies for a 50nm sail from Dehaise, Guadeloupe to the eastern coast of Antigua, Nonsuch Bay back in mid January .

Old Favorites

Antigua was our first Caribbean landing on Argon back in November 2016 after a 6 day passage from Bermuda. Our newness to extended cruising and naivete regarding Caribbean sailing likely caused a steady drip of adrenaline in my body at that time and contributes to vibrant recollections. The second off shore passage to Antigua two years later was a forced extended stay due to significant rig repairs needed. Even though our attention during this 7 weeks was often centered on managing repairs, we were appreciative for being stranded at this island as Antigua was already a favorite.

Now, with quite a few nautical miles in the log book, arriving in Antigua Take 3 is familiar and comfortable. It was wonderful to tuck in to English and Falmouth Harbors for a couple of weeks, meet up with familiar faces, enjoy the deep history and tackle several boat projects.

A Happy Place = Anchored in Freeman Bay, English Harbor. Great cove for my morning swims too.

Med moored at Nelson's Dockyard for about a week among mostly more grand vessels. Construction of the dockyard began in the mid 1700's and is maintained impeccably as a cultural heritage site. It is a fascinating place to experience and explore.

Argon secured at Nelson's Dockyard just before the winds kicked up. The anchor is out to secure us med-mooring style with another long strong line to an underwater mooring chain secured by the dockyard divers. The winds were 20-30kt for several days but we held securely.

A few of the impressive sailboats docked at Nelson's.

Copper and Lumber, a hotel and restaurant at Nelson's Dockyard, was built in 1789 originally to store materials for building and repairing ships. 

Sherwin and Q: Dock Masters and all around great guys at Nelson's.

Meena from the Dockyard Bakery. My favorite is the curry vegetable pies.

Off the main strip in Falmouth, Caribbean Taste offers up great local food at good prices on a front porch.

Chillin' for an afternoon while anchored in Carlisle Bay (Jon and Nicole).

Sunset while at anchor at Five Island Bay. The serene setting was interrupted by a morning anchor dragging incident.

New Harbors and Experiences

Despite the generous amount of time in Antigua in the past, and our comfort hanging out mostly on the southern coast, there were regions yet to explore. The eastern reef-enclosed Nonsuch Bay was high on my mind to visit. When winds and surf are up, the entrance to Nonsuch can be dangerous or impossible to transit, but the conditions and our schedules were ideal for a short stay. Some land excursions and anchoring in Deep Harbor just south of St. John were interesting new areas to explore.

Enjoying coffee at sunrise as storm clouds approach anchored behind the reefs at Nonsuch Bay on the east coast.

Dramatic Devil's Bridge on the east coast.

Hike to the secluded Windward Bay Beach on the south coast.

Hike up the hill overlooking Argon anchored in Deep Bay Harbor on the west coast.

Deep Bay Harbor - One would never know that the crowded city of St. John was just a couple miles away.

The Atlantic Challenge is a yearly extreme ocean rowing event with a few dozen $100K specialized row boats. Teams of 4, 3, 2 and even solo row 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to Antigua taking 30-40+ days to complete. We were fortunate to have been docked right next to the finish line to welcome in the first couple of teams and participate in the festivities. Argon then took a seat back out at anchor to watch others from our transom arrive later in the week. Impressive athletes indeed!

The third place rowers approach the finish line in style in English Harbor, complete with flares and bagpipes.

Not your daddy's row boat.


More Visits from Kids

Jonny and Nicole escaped the cold upstate New York weather to join us for a week spending time on land and aboard Argon.

Jon and Nicole.

Getting ready to hang out on board for the afternoon at anchor.

Found this cool new restaurant in Falmouth specializing in gins and brisket: S*itting Monkey.

Hiking the Goat Trail transiting the southern coast from English Harbor to Falmouth.

Lots of goats on The Goat Trail.

Jon and Nicole atop the popular Shirley Heights for the steel drum band and bbq. Argon is anchored in English Harbor below.

What About Barbuda?...

Antigua is actually the country of Antigua and Barbuda. These two islands comprise the same country, however, Barbuda works hard to function independently and maintain its autonomy and unique culture. Sailing to Barbuda did not fit in to our itinerary during past trips, but thankfully it did this time. More on Barbuda on the next post!

Navigating coral heads approaching the very low, flat island of Barbuda. More to come on Barbuda with the next post.