Antigua is steeped in sailing history. Back in the 1700s the British and French fought it out firing big cannons at each other from close range in the waters nearby. The Brits had the winning hand and the old English traditions left an indelible mark on Antigua from Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbor to the numerous cricket fields dotting the island. Antigua’s main crop was sugar cane and many slaves were brought onto the island to work the crops. The descendants of those slaves now make up a large majority of the population and unlike some other Caribbean islands, where racism simmers just under the surface, we found Antiguans very friendly and open. Almost everyone we met had a smile on their face and was eager to share their island with us.
Mermaid spent the majority of her time at anchor in Jolly Harbor where we ran into several old friends. John and Ellie Wheeler of SV Serenity who we met back in 2003 when we sailed from Mexico to the Marquesas were there as well as Jeff and Melody Christensen formerly of SV Double Diamond who met several years ago in Mexico. Jolly Harbor is a well protected anchorage with a nice marina and lots of bars and restaurants as well as a good grocery store so it was a great base to operate from. It was also served by the small local buses and we used them to get around the island. We also anchored in Hermatage Bay where the movie Wendy was being
filmed. We thought that a boat had gone on the rocks where they were filming but it turned out to be just a set as the next day it was gone. Jeff and Melody were visiting friends at their stunning house overlooking Falmouth Harbor and we were graciously invited over to spectate during the Antigua Classic Regatta and Antigua Race Week. Claudia and Richie were fantastic hosts and had some wonderful times at what Mike dubbed Cherry Hill Manor. One morning during the Classic Regatta our hosts, Claudia had Pavoratti’s Nessun Dorma blasting as we sat outside sipping champagne watching the start of the race. Fantastic! Who knew that yacht racing and opera could go together but the majesty of the music as the old, classic boats hoisted sails and started the race was magic.
During Antigua Race Week we sailed in the Round the Island race on Hotel California Too, a Santa Cruz 70. It was a ton of fun, a great sail and even ended up on the podium, taking third in the race. The crew had never sailed together until we rolled out the jib about two minutes before the start. It was blowing 17 to 20 knots and we didn’t have a small jib so we were a bit overpowered going upwind. We ended up breaking three jib sheets on the beat around the southeast corner of the island and lost some time but once we rounded the corner we were zipping by boats on the reach up the windward side of the island. Across the top of the island we poled out the jib and did quite well going downwind. There were large orange marks that had to be rounded to keep everyone out of the shallow water and reefs near shore and we had a map showing where they were but there were no GPS coordinates and finding them was a challenge as there weren’t many boats in front of us. Heading down the leeward side we weren’t sure where the next mark was when Mike spotted a pair of boats heading back towards us. We spotted the mark as they rounded it and were on our way. After the race we headed back to Cherry Hill Manor for a lovely apres sail around the pool.
Our intention was to take Mermaid down to Grenada and haul out for hurricane season but Antigua had great skilled workers and good haul out facilities so we decided to haul out there. We rented a small condo within walking distance of the yard. It was very basic but more than sufficient for us and we jokingly dubbed it the villa. Mike and Robin spent many days sweating to get Mermaid ready to leave for the season. We started off with a page long list but slowly ticked off the items until everything was ship shape. We’d head down to the boat in the morning, have lunch at Linda’s, who served up very tasty and economical island fare. Robin’s favorite was the chicken roti. Roti is a West Indes dish that has a curry inside a tortilla like roti skin. Delicious. The condo had an extra bedroom so we talked Mike’s brother David Stout and our friend Kathy came for a visit. We had a ton o’ fun touring the island, contesting the Big Two and Mexican Train world championships and voyaging out for snorkel and sail on a tourist boat. Big Fun.