Holidays in Antigua

Having just cleared into Antigua on December 8th (catch up here), we began to explore this beautiful country and celebrate the holidays. We were also low on food and water after spending two weeks quarantined, and could use a top off on gasoline and diesel. So after stopping into the Jolly Harbor fuel dock for all of the above, we checked out our first new anchorage around the corner at Hermitage Bay.

Five Islands Bay is usually just called Hermitage Bay, although technically Hermitage Bay is just a small cove inside of Five Islands. Five Islands Bay, so called because of the five small rocky islands at the entrance on either side of the bay, has four general anchorage areas, one of which is Hermitage Bay proper, and then Maiden Island (anchoring just behind a large island in the middle of the bay), Pearns Bay, and the north shore. It is a massive bay – one mile across and 2 miles deep, yet shallow enough to anchor anywhere inside. The only development in the bay is the Hermitage Bay Resort which is an all inclusive resort costing around $1,800/night. This bay would become our “go to” anchorage when nothing else was on the agenda, just like Francis Bay was for us in St John, USVI.

Misha enjoying her coffee and expanding garden in Hermitage Bay
Mishi, the rising full moon, and Maiden Island

Our first few days free to roam were spent making over 200 gallons of water to refill our tanks and doing a few loads of laundry. We have a very small washing machine on the boat, and then we dry everything by hanging it outside the boat with clothespins. We have a reverse osmosis desalinator on board that can take seawater and turn it into freshwater at a rate of about 18 gallons per hour. But, we can only use it in fairly clean areas or we will foul the filters quickly. We typically run it one day a week, or maybe two days in a row every other week, as our 200 gallon tankage usually lasts us about two weeks.

Topped up on water and food we took advantage of some good sailing weather to make the 25 mile long trek around to Green Island, which is on the east coast of Antigua. We would also be rendezvousing with our friends on Dragonfly there, who we met last season in BVI (they also have a Leopard 46 with a homeport of Tampa Bay). It would be our first time to purely sail since putting on the new rudder! You can only imagine our excitement to be back in action after so long; we felt like we had a new boat!

Dragonfly, our sister ship and good friends
Trimming the sails for Green Island

Raising the sails, we turned south out of Hermitage Bay and headed down the west coast of Antigua, then turned east to head offshore a bit in search for dinner. We were keen to catch a fish, having only caught one barracuda so far this season, despite the excellent fishing lessons our friend Glen on our sister ship Fearless had given us at the end of last season. So, when we got to the ledge on the south coast of Antigua, we motorsailed along it and fished HARD. Sadly, no bites. Once we got to the end of the ledge, we turned north and had a great sail up to Green Island. It was such a joyous day having our boat purely sailing in open ocean for the first time since the Bahamas when we lost steerage. We had no weather helm at all and the boat sailed great.

Nearing the southwest corner of Antigua
Our new headsail and trampoline looking lovely!

The entrance to Green Island (in Nonsuch Bay), is beautiful and a bit interesting. It’s like a slalom course with a lot of left-right-left dodging the reefs but nothing too treacherous with good sunlight and modern charts, just enough to make us feel adventurous. The anchorage is separated from the open ocean only by reef, which means you get the full wind that is out at sea, but hardly any of the waves or swell. You can see a squall coming from hours away and plan your day around it. The snorkeling is pretty good – the second best we’ve seen in Antigua – and there’s a really nice beach (the perfect size for our favorite beach game – Kan Jam).

Grilling out with our friends from Dragonfly
Nonsuch Bay is protected by a reef but faces due east to the Atlantic Ocean. It was so cool to be moored facing the ocean, with no other land in sight between Green Island and Africa. The sunrise views here were breathtaking.
Slaying some Kan Jam with our buddies on Dragonfly

We spent a few nights here catching up with our great friends on Dragonfly. We played beach games and snorkeled by day, watched movies and made great dinners (including some fresh lobster) by night. After a few days, both our boats had a need for provisions and parts in the historic, and busy, English and Falmouth Harbours, which claim to be the “sailing hub of the Caribbean.” There is a lot of maritime history here, including Nelson’s Dockyard which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and some modern marinas where some of the world’s largest sailing yachts come in and out of every week. It’s quite the show! We tucked into a quiet(er) corner of Falmouth Harbour where we would spend Christmas.

What we love about Falmouth Harbour is the ease of doing land chores. There’s a dock to leave the tender with trash disposal right there. There are several markets in short walking distance for food. There’s a Budget Marine for boat parts. There are contractors for marine services, but they do all seem to be too busy for boats like us so fortunately we haven’t had any urgent needs. There are some GREAT hiking trails starting not too far from the dinghy dock. There’s an agent who will receive DHL packages for you. And there’s some good restaurants and coffee shops to patron. From a utilitarian perspective, it’s really only missing WiFi.

The historic Nelson's Dockyard
The cliffs along the hike to Shirley Heights
The view from Shirley Heights over English and Falmouth Harbours by day
The view from Shirley Heights over English and Falmouth Harbours by night
Rollo getting creative to keep the oven shut with all the dishes he has going at once

We also have some friends living on land right by Falmouth Harbour. We had great fun hanging out with Rollo, who we met last season in Turks & Caicos when he was aboard Freedom. We went to a birthday party for his girlfriend Mack at their house and met an awesome group of folks who had been brought to Antigua for various reasons, mostly yachting. On a Sunday afternoon we took a long hike along the coast with Dragonfly and then scaled (what felt to Frank like an endless) mountain to reach Shirley Heights, sight of the famous weekend barbecue and party. Unfortunately COVID protocols have reduced the party to an awkward gathering but we were amongst friends and had a blast. The food was good, the view was incredible and the band was phenomenal. We did get in trouble for dancing to the music in front of the band and the venue manager came on stage between songs to tell us that because of COVID there was no dancing allowed and everyone had to stay at their tables! (very Footloose but given the pandemic, understandable that the Island is doing its due diligence to keep folks safe and healthy). At this time there were only 4 active cases of COVID on the island, but protocols like this is how it stays that way, so fair enough. 

Then came Christmas Eve and Dragonfly invited us to join them for lunch at Boom Restaurant and the food, view, and company were all excellent. Frank said his sandwich was the best he had eaten in years! Mishi proceeded to spend the rest of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning baking lots of treats like Christmas and Caribbean-inspired Chelsea buns (thanks Paul Hollywood and Great British Bake), cream-filled choux buns, and a sourdough chai Christmas wreath bread. We also watched every one of the many Christmas movies we have – but we had to save Elf for Christmas Day, Frank’s favorite Christmas movie.

Heading to lunch at Boom
Misha making passion fruit Chelsea buns

We had a nice and quiet Christmas morning together reflecting on the past year. This is the hardest part about cruising – not being able to be with your family when you want to be. There was just no way we could fly home and back given the COVID protocols, let alone what we would do with the boat – our home – while we were gone. It made us incredibly sad to be without them but we hope that they understand and fortunately with today’s technology we could at least video chat and see each other. 

Mishi’s tropical Chelsea buns were a hit! Meanwhile, Frank admiring Mishi’s choux buns hot from the oven. 

We also went for a walk about to stretch our legs, and it can’t be said enough how nice the locals in Antigua are to us. Probably nicer than anywhere else we have been. Everyone was hanging out on their porches and all exchanged greetings with us. We also stopped by Rollo’s house to say hello, deliver some Christmas bakes and spend some time with his crew. Turns out this was the second year in a row Frank had spent Christmas with Rollo as they were together in Turks and Caicos last year when Misha flew home to be with family and Frank held down the boat-fort. Frank and Rollo have a little holiday tradition started now, two years in a row spending Christmas together – wonder where they’ll be next year! After our visit and sunset walk, we settled in for Misha’s holiday shepherd’s pie and our evening feature film: Elf (of course).

Out for a Christmas stroll
Rollo and Mack sent us off with Christmas leftovers we enjoyed en route to Jolly Harbor - so delicious!

After Christmas we were getting the itch to move again, so we went back to Hermitage Bay to make water and relax in a quieter spot. On the 29th of December we had some of our new land friends stay on the boat to celebrate one of their 30th birthdays. We had a sweet, sunny day at the beach, enjoyed a beautiful full moon, and a lovely meal. It was a truly great group of people. It was also very nice to have a boat full of people and it was the first time Galatea has had someone sleeping in every room since her charter days back in 2017 or so. We’re grateful to have met some incredible folks here, and although we are still finding glitter all over from the party, it was totally worth it. The next morning we sailed around to Jolly Harbor where we planned to bunker down for the Christmas Winds that were coming in for New Years. We had a nice breakfast and a swim and then shuttled our friends into shore.

The Christmas Winds are the colloquial term for a period of time when the trade winds – which typically blow about 15 knots out of the east – are enhanced and blow steadily 20 knots and above for a few days or even a few weeks. It’s the time of year where boats like us just find somewhere protected to anchor and stay on the boat a few days as even in a protected anchorage it can get a bit lumpy and getting the tender down and going to shore certainly means a saltwater bath in all the spray. Our spot was nice, we had no one in front of us to worry about and fortunately it only lasted about three days with winds steady 20-25 knots and frequent squalls gusting in the 30s. Overall, it really wasn’t bad at all so everyone in the anchorage was pretty relieved; if that’s the worst we get all season then it will be a great year (alas, we spoke too soon though…).

Misha made a fort "to protect her plants from the wind" but I think she just wanted to make a fort and read.
A rainbow signaled the end of the Christmas Winds and the holiday season

During this time it was New Years, but in addition to being semi-stuck on the boat because of all the wind chop, we also can’t stay awake past 10pm anyways, and that’s if we are really pushing it! But a resort right next to us shot off a very impressive fireworks show at midnight which woke us up (a bit startled at first) and we could see the entire show out of our bedroom window. We sat up for a few minutes and watched, wished each other Happy New Years, got our kisses and went back to bed.

And so, on New Years Day, we did as people do and talked about last year, and this year and what we wanted to do and achieve and see. One of those first things was a trip to Great Bird Island which is exactly where our next blog post will start. We’ll talk about how we spent the first bit of 2021 in Antigua leading up to our late February departure back west to Puerto Rico. Stay tuned!