Surviving the Social Scene
Our beloved cruising guide says of Antigua that “It can be harder to survive the English Harbour social scene than the offshore reefs,” which I read a week ago with an audible snort. In order to enjoy some kind of social life, you need to have actual friends, or so I vaguely remember from the good old days when I lived in London. Nick and I do enjoy a night out (well, as long as we’re in bed by 9pm… I’m only half kidding), but the thing about this cruising lifestyle is that you’re moving around all the time and it’s very easy to not have contact with any other sailors. However, our past week cruising in Antigua has probably seen us with more social commitments than any other point since our impromptu ARC reunion in Bequia all those weeks ago.
We arrived after an unpleasant sail on the Friday, which I’ve already whinged about, so I’ll leave it at that. After clearing in and cleaning up we felt absolutely knackered, but we also had no food on board (apart from the omnipresent whole frozen chicken in our freezer baskets) so we summoned our remaining energy and headed to shore for an early dinner. The only place that looked open was a bar on the corner, so we sat down and I went up to order from the British owner, who informed me that they actually weren’t open yet. When I apologised automatically (I must have spent too long in the UK; why should I say sorry for assuming a bar is open when there’s music being played and signs out the front advertising their food and drinks?), she laughed and said don’t worry, they should have opened two hours ago! Then she reached over and plucked a joint from the fingers of another bloke sitting at the bar, took a content drag, and handed me a couple of beers.
The following day we went for a walk around Nelson’s Dockyard to perve at all the superyachts in English Harbour, then we wandered back to Falmouth Harbour to perve at all the superyachts there. We had a little mooch around the superyacht pontoons and stopped to drool over a 100 foot carbon fibre racing yacht. Someone was sitting in the cockpit, working on something, and Nick called out a greeting. This guy- an amicable Aussie- seemed more than happy to take a break to chat with us and answer our dumb questions, and in the course of a conversation with him he told us that the yacht in question held the record for the fastest 24 hours of 500 miles. Since then I’ve Googled this for ratification and it seems that the fastest 24 hour sail is actually 620 miles so maybe they held the old record. That would NOT be a comfy sail!
While we were at the dinghy dock and bumped into Anna and Alex from Pantalimon who we met doing the ARC and hadn’t seen since St Lucia. They invited us for drinks that night with another couple they had met at the dinghy dock (it’s quite the social hub, the dinghy dock!) and so, quite unusually, we had two nights out in a row.
Shirley Heights Jump-Up
The following day was a Sunday and apparently it’s an Antiguan institution to head up to Shirley Heights and enjoy the sunset and a steel band at their weekly ‘jump-up’. Anna and Alex suggested we walk, Google informed me it would take an hour which even Nick and I are reasonably capable of, and so it was agreed. However, when the time came for us to actually set off, they suggested that perhaps we ought to just get the ferry across English Harbour and then hike up the hill from there- save ourselves walking all the way around the two harbours. Phew!
So we got dropped off at the bottom of the trail and clambered our way to the top of the lookout. It was only half a mile, and had some stunning views over the harbour. The dry vegetation was in distinct contrast to the rainforests of the islands further south. Lots of cactuses and… okay so I don’t actually know the names of any of the plants, but there were definitely cactuses. Cacti?
We got to the top, absolutely dripping with sweat and gasping for a beer. The steel band was playing (I especially appreciated their rendition of Men at Work’s Down Under!) and hoards of sunburnt tourists in their ‘smart’ holiday clothes were milling around. We had a couple of beers, then escaped back to the trail and it’s many viewing spots for the actual sunset, then headed back to Falmouth Harbour for dinner. It really wasn’t our scene at all, unfortunately. After the jump ups in St Lucia, which were frequented by tourists but mainly a local affair, this felt very forced and touristy. We were glad to leave.
And it’s a good thing we did too, because having decided to eat in Falmouth Harbour, there were only a couple of places open, it being a Sunday night and all. Nick was gravitating towards a little hut on the side of the road that sold BBQ’d chicken, but thankfully Anna and Alex suggested Cap Horn, an restaurant that had actual table cloths, and I was quick to agree. Nick and I tend to steer clear of table cloths these days and I was keen for a treat.
What followed was one of the best meals we’ve had in the Caribbean. We all chose lobster, which was so big I couldn’t eat all mine (Nick helped, don’t worry- nothing went to waste!), and it was superb. I hope we get a chance to go back before leaving Antigua.
The following day, having seen pretty much all Falmouth and English Harbours had to offer we walked back over to Nelson’s Dockyard to pay our fees- yes we had to pay to anchor and Nick was not happy about it! But it gave us another chance to admire this fully restored Georgian dockyard which was built by the British Navy in the eighteenth century and named after Britain’s favourite maritime hero, Horatio Nelson. It’s like a little piece of Britain in the Caribbean, and quite bizarre for it. You could almost be somewhere in Devon!
We then motor-sailed to Jolly Harbour where we will be based for the next few weeks. As we entered Morris Bay the water changed to the most incredible opaque turquoise colour. Our wonder was short-lived as we entered the channel to get to the marina- we called several times but kept being told to wait, wait, just a moment! We ended up circling around the marina entrance until someone came out in a rib to escort us into our berth. It was an interesting manoeuvre involving reversing down a very narrow channel, around a pile into our berth and then attaching bow lines to the pile on one side and our neighbour’s boat on the other, a spring on starboard side between our mid-cleat and the pile, and stern lines. Haven’t done that before!
Within minutes we were connected to shore power, had our water tanks all filled up, and were connected to the marina wifi which actually isn’t too bad. Oh, how we do appreciate a bit of marina life every now and again! Hot water! Nespresso coffee! Unlimited power! What luxury!
On the hammerhead of our pontoon was a familiar looking ARC yacht: Braveheart, a modern classic, all wood and carbon fibre, modelled after the J classes and about 100 foot long. It is absolutely beautiful, needless to say. Nick spotted someone on board and, shamelessly hoping for a tour, struck up a conversation. This does seem to be a habit of his, doesn’t it? An hour later we were sitting in Braveheart’s cockpit with the friendly skipper and his wife who live on board permanently (the owner is currently enjoying a perishing cold Norwegian winter… why?!) and the skipper of Pisces, a Contessa 32, another ARC boat. Talk revolved around sailing as usual and we had a lovely evening watching the sun go down from the cockpit of this immaculate classic yacht. Life is very strange sometimes!
We got our tour, and were very careful not to drool all over the expensive upholstery and glossy mahogany. Actually, what I envied more than anything was the AC on board! I’d almost forgotten what air-conditioning feels like!
We slouched back to our little Southerly 38 (aww, we still love you!) and had a couple of nights bumming around eating pizza and watching True Blood before chatting up our neighbours, an Aussie/Norwegian couple on sabbatical. We managed to score an invite for dinner and spent several happy hours munching on fresh tuna fish, drinking rum and playing some kind of scrabble-type game which I somehow managed to win (ahem, three times). Good old ‘Qi’. What does it even mean!?
Anyway, to continue our run of being the social butterflies we have suddenly turned in to, we’ve got our neighbours back tonight and Nick’s planning an extravaganza of pork, apples and plantain… just as soon as he recovers from his hangover.