Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 15, 2010 - Great Bird Island, Antigua

Yesterday afternoon, after we returned to Parham Harbour from St. John's by bus, we motored two and half miles back out to the reef and anchored behind Great Bird Island. There was one other yacht anchored behind the island with us. And between the two islands just to the south of us, was one other sailboat. Both of them left this morning, leaving us all alone out here in the North Sound. The Caribbean cruising season is definitely winding down. Either that, or everyone else is too smart to come up to these outer reef islands in the inclement weather we've been having lately.

After we anchored, we each headed off on separate snorkeling forays around the anchorage. Sten went off to the reefs north of us, and I headed down to the bird nesting islands to our south. Swimming along quietly in the shallows spying on the birds I felt like a crocodile hunting for dinner. Every once in a while I would raise my head or one blue flipper out of the water, setting of a chain reaction of squawking birds. The late afternoon light peeking out from beneath the clouds cast everything with a gorgeous warm glow. I wished that I'd bothered to bring along the camera.

Last night was steak taco night on board Mata'irea. Which can only mean one thing: margaritas. Just as the sun set, a cocktail cruise boat from the local resort approached our anchorage. As they pulled up next to us Sten climbed up from the galley with the stainless steel cocktail shaker and did his best impression of Tom Cruise as Brian Flanagan for the punters. As he poured our drinks dozens of flashes went off. Now at least twenty more people think cruising is all sundowners in beautiful anchorages.

Today we finally caught a break in the weather. It is still squally but at least it is sunny between the bands of rain. I was chomping at the bit to get out and explore, but Sten, ever diligent, insisted on changing the filters on the watermaker first. Once he was done we set off in the dinghy to see if the reefs were as interesting as we had hoped. As it turned out, they were depressing as hell.

So much of the coral had been damaged by propellers and drifting fishing nets. There wasn't a sizable fish to be found. The piles of conch shells on one beach revealed that as the larger older specimens where harvested to the breaking point, the locals have turned to harvesting the younger, smaller conch. Man's footprint was everywhere we looked, and it wasn't pretty. Exploring Antigua's reefs made us so grateful that we have been able to visit places on this trip where man's tread has been lighter. From the isolated Tuamotus and the protected Andamans and Komodos to the pristine splendor of Chagos, we've had the privilege of experiencing some of the earth's last great wild places.

Back on Great Bird Island the day boats were just setting up their lunchtime bbq's. We walked up to the top of the island to check out the view. At the top we found blowholes dropping 200 feet down to the sea and a flock of angry birds. As they took to the air we realized that we must have been too close to their nests. Squatting down to look under the bushes I noticed ground nests containing two or three eggs. So we beat a quick retreat back down to the beach, leaving them in peace - at least until the next day tour climbed to the top of the hill.

Back at the beach we spent a good hour lolling around in the warm, shallow water, working on our floating techniques, and watching the mating rituals of the birds on the shoreline. Seabird mating rituals apparently involve a lot of squawking, attempts at climbing on each other's backs, precarious balancing routines, more squawking, and the occasional regurgitated fish. It made me really appreciate the human rituals of a dinner and a movie.

As we floated around we got to talking about how before we set off on this trip we thought there would be more days like this one. But they are actually few and far between. And with our adventure drawing to a close we knew we didn't have many more days like this ahead of us. So we just soaked it in. And then we headed back to the boat to scrub the hull.

After a quick lunch we spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning the rust stains off the hull (and here you all though that was just a good punchline). Coming up the Atlantic, surrounded by other boats that were doing major miles, our grungy appearance didn't bother me. But back in the Caribbean, surrounded by boats that spend their lives being polished and buffed, we rather stuck out as looking a bit ragged. This wouldn't have bothered me if our outwards appearance matched reality, but Sten is very diligent about keeping on top of the maintenance of all of our systems. I hated for anyone to look at Mata'irea and assume she wasn't well maintained. Now she is all white and streak free. She isn't shiny, but at least she isn't doing her best impression of a red-headed zebra anymore.

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