Winter in Antigua

After a wonderful holiday season in Antigua (catch up here), we were ready to explore more of this beautiful country with our two months remaining. One of our first agenda items was to visit Great Bird Island.

Great Bird Island is located on the eastern end of North Sound, a large bay on the northeast corner of Antigua. It is full of reefs which make for great snorkeling, but also necessitate good sunlight overhead to illuminate underwater dangers when navigating. We sailed up on a day when the wind was moderate, and though a bit of bashing about took place to get upwind, it felt great to be sailing. We pulled in the sails as we approached North Sound so we could focus on navigating around the reefs, which, thanks to great sunlight was no problem; it always pays to be cautious your first time entering a new place. We tucked behind Great Bird Island, one of many small islands on the east end of North Sound, and called it home for the week.

Looking towards Guiana Island from the top of Great Bird Island
Celebrating summiting Great Bird Island

Great Bird Island was truly remarkable. There are two idyllic beaches, one on the north side and one on the south side. Both involve a bit of navigation around reefs to get to from the anchorage but make it that much more special once you’re in. They’re isolated, quiet and crawling with birds and lizards. There is also great trail that makes a loop of the island. One end of the loop goes around the low-lying section of the island and through dense forest of enormous cacti and palms. The other end goes straight up to the tall cliff, then along either end to the points with amazing views. There were birds called longtails flying back and forth along the cliff, and we even saw one nesting under a rock along the trail. Magnificent frigatebirds would also fly along the cliff where the uplift of the wind made hunting easy.

Isolated south beach on Great Bird
Scoping out the best reef snorkel spots

There were literally miles of coral to snorkel and deciding the best place to start was tough! We took note of where the day charter boats were taking their paying guests and figured that was a good place to try and it sure was. We had not yet seen reef this healthy and brimming with life in Antigua, although Green Island was a close second. Later we tried out a few spots further away from the island. As the wind and seas picked up outside in the Atlantic the visibility worsened and it was hard to snorkel. We have found much of Antigua to have poor water clarity and not great snorkeling except at Green Island and Great Bird, but certainly part of that is our timing: we’e here in the peak of winter when heavy winds and swell from multiple directions tend to stir everything up.

The cool north beach with rock right up to the edge of the beach
Little Shop of Horrors-esque huge plants on Great Bird
Double-Frank-sized cacti
Picnic benches on the beach

On the morning we planned to leave we were running our generator in the morning to top up the batteries while we were cooking breakfast. All of a sudden Frank saw white steam coming out the generator exhaust, ran over to the control panel and saw the temperature was getting too high and shut down the generator. He went on deck and opened the generator locker as steam poured out everywhere! It was too hot to deal with then, but that evening when he pulled it apart he diagnosed that the water lift pump which pushes water up to the generator from the sea down below had died, causing the impeller to run mostly dry and break apart, meaning no water was getting to the generator leading to an overheat. What a mess!

Our disintegrated generator impeller!
Easy and delightful downwind sail back to Hermitage

Once we tidied up as best we could to get moving, we weighed anchor, navigated out of the sound, threw out our genoa and enjoyed a delightful 20 mile downwind sail to Hermitage Bay in 20 knots of wind. It’s easy to make good speed in comfort in those conditions! Since starting our journey back in October 2019, we’ve rarely been able to sail downwind given our direction of travel. But this season we will get to spend many days running west back to Florida. We made for Hermitage Bay and got the generator cleaned up and back in action that night.

In addition to needing a new water lift pump for the generator, we were growing concerned with signs our windlass (which picks up the anchor) was on the brink of death. Two other friends with similar vintage windlasses of the same model had just had theirs die completely, leaving them in a bad spot when a replacement is a week away. So, we decided to order in a new motor for the windlass along with the water lift pump and fix those issues. We went to Falmouth Harbour where it is easiest to receive packages and what do you know, when we arrived, our starboard engine wouldn’t turn off! The stop solenoid which shuts off fuel with the push of a button had gone bad. So, we also ordered that part. Convenient timing!

Galatea in Falmouth bathing in the sunset
Misha 70' up changing a light bulb
View of anchorage in Falmouth from the top of our mast
On a hike over Falmouth
Hikes and tree nooks overlooking clear blue water

We spent two weeks in Falmouth waiting for parts during which we had some great hikes, a fun beach party, received the parts and fixed the engine and generator, took Misha up the mast to replace our anchor light bulb, and hung out with our friends on Dragonfly and our friend Rollo on land. While working on the engines Frank gave them a good thorough look over, replacing a few other parts that were looking rough too.

Fort Berkeley at the entrance of English Harbour
Hiking over Falmouth with our friends on Dragonfly
Misha feasting upon phenomenal wood fired pizza
Making friends on our hike

We had intended to go to Sint Marteen (the Dutch side of St Martin) when we left Antigua to replace our windlass motor and have a bunch of engine work done. But between rising COVID cases and already having the windlass motor in hand, we started to explore finding a mechanic in Antigua to do some work on the engines and eliminating the need to go to St Martin altogether. After a bit of calling around we came upon Wesley with Multiiserv and right away we could tell he was our guy, bonus that he was very flexible and so easy to work with. So, we arranged to take a slip at Jolly Harbor Marina for four nights to have Wesley work on the engines and generator and for Frank to replace the windlass motor (which can’t be done while anchored). This was also conveniently timed as a major north swell came in while we were in the marina so we didn’t have to bother with it.

Doing boat yoga to remove the windlass bolts
Ready to get back to work with a new motor

Frank struggled a bit getting the windlass out of the deck because of the way it was installed, but once out, it was a fairly easy, but slow job to replace the motor, change the oil, replace the seals and put her back in the deck. Wesley adjusted valve clearances on both engines and generators, did compression tests on the engines and gave us some homework, including replacing all the injectors – but he showed Frank how to do it, saving us hundreds of dollars! Ultimately, in addition to doing some overdue maintenance, Wesley made us feel better about the condition of our engines and that feeling is priceless.

At the time we came into the marina, Antigua had just gone into a partial lockdown. All bars were closed, the curfew was tightened to 8pm, and restaurants were allowed to do take out only. All the holiday travelers into Antigua had brought COVID with them and it began to spread amongst the community. From around 5 active cases when we arrived, all imported, to a peak of around 400, mostly community spread. When we came to Antigua, you’ll recall we quarantined for two weeks on our boat with no human contact except the Port Health nurse. People flying in and staying at resorts in Antigua on the other hand could fly in and do as they pleased, even go to a bar the night they got off the plane. Hmmm…

To support the struggling local restaurants, and seeing as we seldom eat out and would be working our butts off every day, we decided to do take out dinner each night we were in the marina, as there were several on the grounds. We had amazing Indian from Bodog Curry House, really great Serbian food from Fort Medieval (free beers and delivery included!), and Greek food from Akropolis that was so good we got it twice.

Galatea at Jolly Harbor Marina
Galatea hanging behind us in Deep Bay
Western views from the trail at Deep Bay
The view of Deep Bay from the fort

After leaving the marina and a brief catch up on water making in Hermitage Bay, we headed up to Deep Bay to check it out for the first time. Rollo drove up to hang out on the beach for the day with us. We hiked up to Fort Barrington which had great views of Deep Bay and towards St John’s. There is also a wreck towards the back of Deep Bay but the breeze was quite stiff with a strong lingering north swell coming into the back of the anchorage so visibility was horrible and we did not get to see it, other than a bit of the mast sticking a foot above the water. 

Inside Fort Barrington
Drifting down the west coast of Antigua
Cooling off in Hermitage Bay

We returned to Hermitage Bay, our tried and true, to just chill as we had been quite busy all January. It was time to start considering our next moves as our visa was up in less than a month. Having decided not to go to Sint Marteen, we set our sights on returning to Puerto Rico instead, an area we were familiar with but still had lots to explore. We had until March 5th, and as that date approached, we saw the weather shaping up better to depart earlier, around February 20th, in a gap between cold fronts where we could run downwind in a nice 20 knots of breeze.

So we began to prepare the boat and ourselves. Watching the weather, arranging an outbound COVID test, stocking up on groceries, inspecting the rigging, steering system, and engines, and just making sure we were all around good for a passage. After nearly three months of only day hops around the island, there’s a good bit to prepare for going offshore so we spent a whole week getting every detail to our satisfaction.

Giving her babies some sun and love

In our next blog post, we’ll detail those final preparations and how the 210-mile passage to Culebra, Puerto Rico went. Stay tuned!

1 thought on “Winter in Antigua”

  1. What a great journey you folks are undertaking. Really enjoy reading this blog. Safe trip to the Keys! Miss you folks. Doug

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