Our original plan for this six week jaunt through the Caribbean involved Barbados, Martinique, Guadeloupe (let's call these first three the Rum Tour), Nevis, St. Kitts, Statia (let's call these next three the Easy Route), St. Barts and Sint. Maarten. But then on one of our day sails north, I started paging through our cruising guide. I noticed this whole reef system on the north side of Antigua, of which I had absolutely no recollection from our run down through the chain three years ago. From the chart, it looked like just our kind of place. Why hadn't we stopped?
I spent a while reading about the navigation and anchorages in Antigua's North Sound, and quickly realized why we hadn't explored it on our first pass through these islands. The last time we were here we had absolutely no experience with reef navigation. We were still learning to use our chart plotter and read our electronic charts. Our first forays into shallow water strewn with coral heads, reefs and shoals was in the Grenadines, a month after we visited Antigua. We've spent a good chunk of the three years since then navigating such waters.
Since our return to the Caribbean, we have been somewhat disappointed in the snorkeling. If any of the yachties reading this blog have been considering going to Chagos, don't. The pristine coral, abundant fish life and clear water will ruin you for the rest of the world. But the reefs on the north side of Antigua looked like they had potential. So we changed plans.
Having reached the end of the Rum Tour, we had been planning to take the Easy Route to St. Barts and Sint. Maarten. The run northwest to Nevis from Guadeloupe would have been an overnighter, but at least it would have been downwind. Instead, pulled north by the allure of the Antigua's North Sound and crushed for time because we need to be in Sint Marteen when our friends arrive next week, we spent a day beating into stiff headwinds and dodging squalls to reach Jolly Harbour, Antigua (let's call this the Hard Way). It was nauseating.
The highlight of the day was spotting four or five whales (we think juvenile sperm) lounging on the surface near a big buoy a few miles off the coast of Guadeloupe. And pulling into the anchorage outside of Jolly Harbour and finding ourselves surrounded by US boats for the first time in years was pretty entertaining. It is late in the season and so most of the yachts in the Caribbean are drifting north, to stage themselves for the jump to the Azores, the States, or Bermuda, or south, to hole up in Grenada, Venezuela, or Trinidad for hurricane season. It makes sense that most of the boats at the northern end of the chain would be from the US, but we just didn't expect it.