Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | March 27, 2012

Amnesia in Antigua

N 17° 00.6′   W 61° 46.7′

Falmouth Harbor, Antigua

Falmouth Harbor from trail above Pigeon Beach

If not for the t-shirt, we wouldn’t have remembered a prior visit to Antigua! An Antigua Paddles souvenir shirt recently surfaced in my clothing stash, commemorating a cruise ship stop many years ago. It seems inexcusable not to remember more of this pretty island, but cruise ship tours allow just a quick one-day snapshot of a particular destination. For us the pampered shipboard experience in a tropical setting was the priority, not sight-seeing in the company of thousands of other passengers. We later recalled the well-orchestrated kayak excursion through mangrove-lined waters and bird watching at a rocky island but that is all we remembered of Antigua. This time we wanted to do a little more justice to the island, still keeping the visit brief. Antigua, darn it, is another one of those strict British dog rule countries.

Whale-watching was a sightseeing bonus as we approached the north coast of Antigua. We saw a humongous splash in the distance and something rise high above the water that could only have been a mammoth sea creature or a surfacing submarine. As we got closer we caught a few glimpses of the whales right at the spot on the chart labeled “kelp”, which must have been good fishing grounds. I spent an hour with the camera glued to my face ready to capture another breach. It was one of the few occasions in which the Captain encouraged my photographic efforts, which he usually finds annoying. A whale sighting meets his criteria of a highly irregular occurrence that is worthy of documenting and if I looked like a tourist only the whales would be smirking. The mysterious whales did not make another spectacular performance that afternoon and their splashes were so quiet the dogs didn’t catch on to their presence.

Pilot whales?

We spent a couple of days at Deep Bay, a comfortable harbor near little Five Islands Village surrounded by rocky goat-inhabited hills, upscale English island-style villas and a charming beach. It was quiet and peaceful at night. Cruise ship passengers were ferried in each day to visit the beach and snorkel the wreck of the Andes, which sits right in the middle of the harbor, its mast just poking above the waterline. The Grand Royal Antiguan sits on the south side of the Bay, a pretty resort that appeared to be struggling. Although it was staffed and most of the grounds were maintained, we never saw visitors in or around the place. A beachside vendor confirmed the resort had no guests. We figured it might have been a casualty of the fewer scheduled airline flights and package vacation visitors that many of the Caribbean islands are experiencing. It was sad to realize those pleasant islanders will lose their jobs if they can’t get this turned around.


Deep Bay in the quiet early am

We moved on to Falmouth Harbor, a beautiful and protected bay that was a hub of marine activity. Lots of boats to be found at anchor and in the marinas: cruising sailboats, many exquisite mega sailboats, a few mega power yachts and what looked to be a very active watersports community. In many of the places we have visited it is rare to catch a glimpse of the locals actually enjoying their maritime resources. It was nice to see lots of young people enthusiastically swimming from sunrise to well after sunset, racing small prams, paddle boarding and kayaking.  Adjacent Pigeon Beach was a particularly popular spot on the weekends. 

Beautiful large sailing yachts come and go each day


From our spot on the hook we had a front row seat for the sailing races

From the eastern side of Falmouth Harbour it was a short walk to scenic English Harbor, used as a British Naval Base in the era of sail. We spent some time exploring that area and the impressive and well-restored Nelson’s Dockyard. It is a neat historical site, complete with an excellent museum, and a working and filled-to-capacity marina. The grounds were a delight and unlike any marina we have seen.

Grounds at Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbor

The dogs have tolerated being confined, and the experience good for Bandit since she is back on track with doing her business in the appropriate spot on the bow. We feel a little guilty that their exercise is limited and aren’t comfortable in a place that doesn’t allow them. The trade-off for having furry companions and a built-in security patrol is some limitations on our destinations, and we are okay with that. Time to move on.  Although our stay was short, pleasant new memories were permanently imprinted.  We won’t forget Antigua this time.

The Soufrière Hills Volcano on Monterrat is visible from Falmouth Harbour on a clear day and seems to call out for a visit. How people and active volcano can co-exist on the small island is intriguing. Montserrat, along with the islands of Saba, Statia, Nevis, and St. Kitts fall in the guide-book chapter titled “Mountains that Brush the Clouds”. The name is inviting but after reading the fine print, “islands with miserable anchorages” might better describe the conditions that mariners can often expect. The high slopes on these islands steeply meet the seas and great harbors are lacking. The Captain had suggested skipping those islands, taking the alternate path south via St. Barts, Barbuda and Antigua in the interest of keeping the crew content. He is a wise man.

I had still hoped we might be able to make a brief detour to Montserrat en route to Guadeloupe since it is not far out of the way. After a lot of debate and weather watching, we decided that with the direction of the swell there was a strong chance we would not find suitable anchorage and launching conditions and scratched the idea. This is one of the times we would have loved a roll-resistant catamaran design or a lower-to-the-water dinghy launching system. Oh, well.  We shall salute the island and its resilient people as we pass by.

Next stop: Guadeloupe



  1. Sad to hear that Royal Antiguan is struggling. Deep Bay is a beautiful spot and the resort was a well run All-Inclusive that we really enjoyed! Our favorite spot was the restaurant over the water in your picture! Have fun on your way to Guadeloupe! Hope the valcano gives you a little erruption as you pass by! Just enough to cause a stir, but no damage! Keep that camera ready to roll, for valcanoes & whales!

    • Volcano was misbehaving on Friday with some ash spewing. That along with Saharan Dust has caused very hazy conditions in a wide area. I was surprised that the ash could get upwind, but according to the weather experts that is the case. Even more amazing that Saharan Dust travels so far!! Tomorrow looks like travel day and I’m hoping it will be clearer. Right now we can’t even see Montserrat – it is about 25 miles SW of here.

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