Friday, 19 April 2013

Bashing onwards to Antigua

It was a grey, unfriendly morning, but it was time to get to sea if we were to catch Antigua Classics.

Deshaies to English Harbour is further than many of the inter-island passages, meaning a 0700 start to be sure of arriving in daylight. The wind was still blowing, but - as we'd discovered - Deshaies seemed to be an almost permanently windy anchorage. It was tempting to wait another day, but we'd signed out with immigration the night before...

A damp arrival
I hauled up the anchor and Natalie steered Limbo out past the other boats. I went on deck to get the main up. I didn't hesitate to put a couple of reefs in, until we knew what the conditions were like; the trip was likely to be hard on the wind all the way.  We unfurled the genoa and heeled over as we headed out of the sheltered bay. We would be in the lee of the island for a few miles, out of the worst of the sea, but our Doyle guide told us to expect more wind until we were clear of the coast.

We headed north past the green, craggy shore. We had about force six with stronger gusts which heeled Limbo right over, more than I was comfortable with. It was rough, bucking right into the waves. If it hadn't been for our book's promise of less wind in a couple of miles, we would probably have turned back. Natalie hung on to the tiller while, safety harness clipped on, I climbed up onto the cabin roof to pull down the third reef. Now we were more under control, but the boat was sagging down to leeward, away from our course. Motor sailing was the way forward, and I put the engine on with fairly low revs to keep us pointing up into the wind.

Further out, we found no less wind but bigger waves of probably 2.5 to 3 metres. Sailing home, I couldn't help thinking, could involve days of this as we headed up to Bermuda.. But we were making progress, and would be there that evening, and we could cope.

The 42 mile trip was a long slog of torrential rain, scudding grey skies and 30 knot squalls, followed by calm periods which left Limbo rolling around awkwardly in  the lumpy seas. We got cold, too cold, and wet. Antigua was visible in the gloom a few miles out, looking like an island somewhere off Scotland rather than in the Caribbean. A big, 65 foot Oyster passed us, going to windward under engine and staysail alone; she clearly didn't much like the conditions either. It was a relief to get the sails down in the flatter water outside the entrance to English Harbour and head into shelter. We put the kettle on.

Freeman's Bay, English Harbour, on a much nicer day.

Antigua was a place close to my heart. I had fond memories of the island from my previous trip, spending several weeks living and working aboard the 75 foot ketch La Cautiva before helping to sail her back to England where university awaited. It was one of the places I'd always pictured going back to, and now Limbo was anchored here, in Freeman's Bay.

The anchorage was crowded, and it took a few tries to find a space with swinging room. A big superyacht dock has taken over much of the anchoring space, but nothing much else had changed. The grey buildings of Nelson's Dockyard still stood sentinel, unspoilt though much-visited, the green, forested hill behind the harbour still rose steeply to Shirley Heights, and the waves still broke on the reef to the east of the narrow entrance. This was the place where, more than anywhere else, I thought we have done this.   

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