Thursday, May 24, 2012

Antigua – English Harbour – St. John's

Nelson’s Dockyard
Unlike most of the islands in the Caribbean, Antigua did not go through the Spanish/Dutch/French/English/Portugal battle for control.  She remained British until her independence in 1981.

English Harbour
The British used English Harbour on the southern coast of Antigua as a hurricane hole and a repair yard thus allowing the British to keep a squadron of ships in the Caribbean.  This allowed the British to maintain naval superiority over its enemy and enforce Navigation Acts especially against those insurgents in the 13 American colonies.

Boat House Pillars
Nelson’s Dockyard was named after a young Captain Nelson that was temporary Commander of the Leeward Islands (1784-1787).    Other well known British admirals who used the harbour were Rodney, Hood and Lewis.

Seaman’s Galley
Many of the bricks used in construction were brought over from England as ballast in the ships.
The Officer’s Quarters
Most of the buildings seen today were built between 1785 and 1792.  Steam-powered ships and waning interest in the area caused the dockyard to fall into disuse and it was officially closed in 1889.  In 1951 an effort was started to save the dockyards, and in 1961 the Dockyard officially reopened after much restoration work.  Most of the buildings have “adaptive uses,” and house hotels, restaurants and gift shops.

The Dockyard has retained a decidedly English feel.  At 6:00 PM on Wednesdays, a group of English expatriates celebrates with “Tots to the Queen” The ceremony includes a reading of an English naval factoid that occurred on that date in history.
(used to careen over ships for bottom cleaning)
Admiral Lord Nelson’s ships have been replaced by private sailing yachts (and the occasional trawler).

We just missed Antigua Sailing Week and Antigua’s Classic Yacht Regatta, but luckily some of the yachts remained.
Ft. Berkeley
Entering English Harbour is impressive with Ft. Berkeley on one side and the Pillars of Hercules on the other. 

English Harbour was heavily fortified with Ft. Berkeley on one side and Ft. Charlotte on the other point.
Hiking up to Ft. Berkeley was fun;
But we probably should not have picked the hottest part of the day.
Pollie rocking out to the steel band
Above the forts Shirley Heights was built to provide a lookout station and early warning for the forts.  Today Shirley Heights is a popular entertainment venue with a great view of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

We did venture into St. John’s, the capital of Antigua and the home of their cruise ship docks.  After the serenity and beauty of English Harbour St. John’s was a little hard to take.
St. John’s Cathedral
Their main draw was closed for much needed restoration.

And, their infrastructure left a lot to be desired.
So, we hurried back to English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard where along with Izzy R we are waiting for calmer seas before continuing our journey south.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Green Circle

Upon arrival in St. Barth’s, we noticed tents on the docks and what appeared to be preparations for a large celebration.  The Port Authority informed us they were expecting the finish of the TRANSAT, and we were very lucky to get a mooring inside the harbor.  La TRANSAT is a 3890 mile race from Concarneau, France to St. Barth’s.  The first of the 21 Figaro Beneteau II’s competing were scheduled to arrive the following weekend.
From our mooring we could see and definitely hear most of the festivities.  Due to light winds, the guests of honor for the party were running a little late.  But, that did not stop the partying on Friday and Saturday nights.
During the day, the local youth sailing clubs put on an exhibition and there were other family oriented activities.
The first boat, Green Circle, did not cross the finish line until 3:55 PM Sunday afternoon.
As the boats finished they were met by the race officials and helped into a stern tie off of the quay.
When we went to bed on Sunday night, there were 4 boats tied to the quay.  By morning they had been joined by most of the rest of the fleet.  When we checked on Monday afternoon for an early morning departure on Tuesday, we were warned to watch for the last arrival.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

St. Barth’s

Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the “new world,” Saint Barthelemy was named after Columbus’ younger brother, Bartholomew.  The Spanish considered the island worthless and left it for the British and French to squabble over.  Unlike other islands in the Caribbean there were no plantations on St. Barth’s because the island had no fresh water and little arable land.  In 1784 the island was ceded to Sweden.  France purchased the island in 1878, and it remains French to this day.  St. Barth’s residents recently participated in the French Presidential elections.
Unlike other Caribbean islands, St. Barth’s has no large cruise ship terminal, and therefore a limited number of tourists.  St. Barth’s has the reputation of being a playground for the rich and famous; note the private yacht above.  Reportedly Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn have a home on the island. 
We didn’t let St Barth’s reputation bother us; we pulled right into the center of harbor at Gustavia and took their bow and stern moorings.  The next day the Izzy R joined us.
For the really adventurous, there is turboprop air service to the island.
But, be prepared for an abbreviated roll out, because the runway is short and the overrun has limitations.
Appropriately there is a cross on the hill next to the airport’s wind sock.
Usually the first thing we do at a new island is breakout the fold up bicycles, but at St. Barth’s we decided our little one-speeds were no match for the terrain.
Kamikaze scooter riders are very prevalent on the island.  One passed us and then around the next curve/hill we found the scooter wedged into a car’s rear bumper and the rider sitting on the road with his bell severely rung.  Lucky for him they seem to enforce a helmet law.
Even though they drive on the right side, I found driving in St. Barth’s to be the most challenging of all of the islands so far.
Not sure what this sign was trying to tell me, but I am sure it is not good.
So, we gave up on the rental car and went back to our trusty dinghy for transportation.
Adequate dinghy parking was conveniently located around the harbor.
There seemed to be at least one boat of some sort for every island resident.
This one looks like it would be groovy to sail.
Maybe I am wrong, there seems to be one guy without a boat.
Exploring the streets of Gustavia, St. Barth’s main city on foot was fun.  Note the baguette in the backpack; we found the bakery.
Of course we had to visit the iconic Le Select, home of Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Urban legend has it that Jimmy Buffett wandered into Le Select and discovered they were claiming that Le Select was the inspiration for his song Cheeseburger in Paradise.  When confronted about this misrepresentation, the owner offered Jimmy a free bar tab for life in exchange.
Of course crêpes are readily available, even from street vendors.
This crêpe with cheese, ham, and an egg in the middle with the edges folded making a square was delicious.  We never did understand what they were calling this creation.
Food and lodging can be quite expensive on St. Barth’s.  Here I am looking at a menu that has a cheeseburger priced at 25 Euro (1.32 dollars to the Euro).  The service charge (tipping) is included in the price on French islands.  In the Bahamas and some other islands it is customary for the establishment to add a 15% service charge to the bill.  It is all very confusing especially for Americans that are use to tipping.  In St. Martin we noticed that there was no place on the credit card receipts to add a tip (because tipping is not customary).  When questioned, the owner said we could pay cash or he would add it to the bill for us.  Americans are so easy – oui? 

St. Barth’s has some great beaches.

But, don’t look too close as many of the beach goers are topless.
The interior of St. Barth’s was also very picturesque.  On many of the islands when you get away from the tourist attractions it can get very “rough;” 
But, not on St. Barth’s. 
While walking a trail to look at yet another beach;

We found the source for Beef Carpaccio.
Izzy and Jeff setting up their mooring lines for a graceful departure
Of all of the islands we have visited so far, St. Barth’s was the hardest to leave.