We arrived in Antigua at 1400hrs and anchored in Freeman Bay in the famous English Harbour. The harbour was a major naval base during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In days gone by you could enjoy the pleasures of Black Vomit, Yellow Fever and an impressive range of sexually transmitted diseases without leaving the safety of your own boat. Nowadays most of the diseases are associated with the local rum . Jack and I kept our eyes pealed for any signs of black vomit just in case but saw nothing.
Our first night was somewhat disturbed because once again as the sun fell so did the wind and we found ourselves drifting into adjacent boats - not damaging because it was flat calm but equally not great for a quiet night.
The next day we decided that we would move to the adjacent bay, Falmouth Harbour, where there would be more room. The passage from English to Falmouth Harbours is just a few miles round the coast, we didn't even take the sail covers off. Half an hour after pulling up the anchor we were dropping it again in Falmouth. As we lowered the anchor we spotted several friends and acquaintance's; Tigress, Buzzard, Ticha, Walrus to name but a few. The kids were keen to pay some social calls. 'Where's the dinghy?' Jack asked, 'tied at the back of the boat' I replied, 'no she's not', 'of course she is' ,'she's not','is', 'isn't' but she wasn't. Poppy had runaway from home. Oh Bugger.
I hauled the anchor up like a demon, ran to the helm pushed open the throttle and we hurtled off at full speed, the only sign of our brief visit a pall of black smoke and a few confused friends staring at the stern of Brimble as we shot out of the harbour. The coastline where we must have lost her is completely open to The Atlantic and great rollers were crashing against the rocks where Poppy would inevitably have been blown. We scoured the shore but there was no sign of her or bit's of her. After 20 minutes we were back around the coast approaching English Harbour when a large RIB came towards us. There, there the kids screamed, she's in that boat there and sure enough there she was sitting ignominiously in the front of the RIB. The blokes who had rescued Poppy were killing themselves with laughter. With Poppy safely on tow behind Brimble we reanchored in Falmouth and it was time for recriminations and to attribute blame.
'Who tied Poppy on' I asked. Jack was first to deny any involvement but proudly pointed out that he had been the first to notice that Poppy wasn't where she should have been. Ella and Selma's denials followed and then a trio of accusations. I tried to come up with a powerful counter-blame but in the end had to resort to the ultimate defence case - 'it can't have been me, I'm the Captain'. After a brief discussion Ella agreed to take the blame although despite this everyone seemed to find out it had been me who did the slippery knot (now a cocktail comprising 3 parts white wine, 2 parts white rum and 1 part sprite). The trouble is that now nobody will let me tie their dinghies up, it's a little embarrassing really.
On Sunday night we decided we would visit Shirley Heights. From this spot you have a birdseye view of English and Falmouth Harbours; there's also a bar with beer and rum and music for the children. We had some special insider yachtie information that if you took a slightly more rugged hill path rather than walked along the road you could get into the 'grounds' round the back and not pay the enormous admission fee of £2.50 each. With such a sum at stake we manfully embraced the fairly stiff climb but sadly the bar owners had rumbled the plan and installed spotters to catch the yachties as they clambered up the hill. We were nabbed within yards of our goal and escorted to the bar to pay our admission.
The other piece of useful info we had gathered was to avoid the rum punch at all costs which in addition to the normal effects of alcohol rapidly leaves the drinker entirely devoid of inhibition. A few weeks earlier a friend of ours had enjoyed 6 drinks and prior to passing out had provided some candid feedback to a fellow guest when he said 'you are the fattest, ugliest woman I have ever seen in my life'.
Falmouth Harbour is a spectacular place because of the super yachts which were simply awe inspiring. From the luxurious cockpit of the goodship B we could see perhaps 15 yachts and motor cruisers between 100 and 150ft long. Their masts were so tall that they have fixed red lights on the top as a warning to aircraft! I am considering fitting one to Brimble so she doesn't feel left out. We stayed in Falmouth for 4 days and having checked the lay of the land and tested out a few of the local bars (notably the Mad Mongoose) we moved on round the coast and up to Barbuda. En route we stopped for a night at Deep Bay.
Barbuda is off the beaten track and very unspoilt compared to the rest of the Caribbean partly because it's not on the way anywhere but more because of the islands reputation for sinking boats. The reefs around Barbuda become a navigational hazard well before you can even see the low lying island. So just when you're checking the chart for hard things that you might hit you hit one! This said, with GPS and plenty of sunlight the whole problem is made a lot simpler. We approached the island at 1300hrs so that the sun was high and we could spot reefs easiest. But, as usual our cunning plans were mangled, this time by thick cloud forming just as we arrived.
Despite the extra challenge we snuffled our way in and dropped anchor just a hundred metres or so off the beach and right next to Pete, Anne and Tigress. A pretty significant swell had developed through the course of the week which crashed noisily only metres from where we sat but this only made the spot all the more memorable.
The next day I carried out a test run to see if I could get ashore and back in one piece in advance of the family unit. The surf was the biggest we had seen on the trip and positively thundered as it destroyed itself in a foaming white spectacle on the beach. The theory of rowing ashore in a surf is straight forward, in practice it almost never works. When landing you just row like a maniac in the direction of the wave until you're either upside down or high and dry; you then spring out of the dinghy and pull it further up the beach before the next breaker wipes you out. Departure is trickier; here you have to wait for the big waves to break and when it looks like there are a few smaller waves coming, you push the dinghy out as far as you can get, leap in and row, once again, like a maniac. The hope is that you are out of the breaking water before a big wave gets you. If you are then all is well, if you're not the water breaks over the dinghy and tips it up. The bigger the waves the more the fun and the less likely you are to arrive and depart dry. My arrival, though I say it myself was textbook stuff, so much so that I almost forgot to get out of the dinghy as I basked in the glory of a safe arrival. Departure was less successful. The series of waves that appeared from afar to be little friendly chaps were not; in fact they were really quite rufty tufty, john-haters, the result an impressive wipe out, but with no children in the boat and no outboard it was really quite fun and apart from a dinghy full of water no harm done.
Having tested the water, so to speak, we decided that a friendlier shore would be best for landing and exploring the coast, so later that morning, after school, we headed north to in pursuit of Tigress and safer shores.
The anchorage we moved up to was the main port of Barbuda, it was tiny so much so that we had to park pretty much in the middle of the entrance to keep of the reefs on either side - this was poorly received by the locals. Still, after I had apologised they seemed happier with the situation and we set off to walk to the capital, Codrington, named modestly after the family who first leased the island from England in 1678 at an annual rent of one fat sheep.
Whilst chatting to the fisherman and ferry driver whose path I had blocked with my RYA approved anchoring technique I mentioned that we, along with the Tigressians, were going to walk to town. This was received with stunned silence followed by howls of laughter. 'Impossible mon' then they lost interest and wandered off sniggering. I rechecked the chart which gave a guide of maybe 3 miles and couldn't quite figure out the problem; we set off. The walk was indeed quite hot and quite dry but not a big issue for us because after ten minutes the seven of us were given a lift in a pick up truck. We arrived in the capital city on Saturday which is rush day in Barbuda, it was magical.
The Caribbean is a laid back place but Codrington made everywhere else look positively hectic - this apparently explained the hysterics with our proposed walk. I suspect that the last person to make the walk was the original Mr Codrington when he staked his claim and made the island his own.
We also met Leicester Girl. She heard us talking as we went by and stopped for a chat. 'The trouble wiv rand ere' she said' is that noone wants to chat like in England and anyway they dont know how'. We hadn't thought about it but it's very true. The local Caribbean don't chat like the British. She also explained that her Leicester boyfriend was born in Barbuda and anyone from Barbuda was entitled to a job and a plot of land, presumably courtesy of Mr Codrington. She added that he had really struggled to fully engage with the local work ethic. On his first day he had completed his days work in an hour. It was only after a colleague explained that he had the wrong attitude that he started to settle down a bit. Now he knows to arrive half an hour late, work for half an hour, sleep until lunchtime, go home for a two hour lunch break, return to work for half an hour, have a quick afternoon nap and then head home, content with a good days work.
The next day we walked 3 or 4 miles of the 14 mile pink beach alongside our anchorage. The beach is reputed to be one of the most beautiful and unspoilt in the world and we wouldn't argue- we met one other person as we walked. The following day we left the 1600 inhabitants of Barbuda and returned to Antigua to meet Dad.