Wednesday 16th to Sunday 21st February
By which I’m not, this time, referring to marital trouble, but more of that later. Captain Hugh is guest writer on this week’s post. He writes….
“We have at last extricated ourselves from Antigua. Marina fever got the better of us and with hindsight we wished we had hired a car and made an effort to see more of the island. Strange because usually I am fretting that we spend too much time sightseeing and not enough time on Vega.
Last Wednesday we left Jolly Harbour too late to be confident of arriving at Barbuda with the sun still high enough to see the shallows and reefs to be avoided on the way into the anchorage. So we spent the night back in Deep Bay and had a very romantic cockpit supper. We left the next morning for the sail north to Barbuda, the smaller of the two island state of Antigua and Barbuda.
The main anchorage at Barbuda is on the west side in Low Bay alongside the beach that forms a narrow strip of land between the sea and the large seawater Codrington Lagoon. On arrival it is like being in a classic image of the Caribbean with the bright pale blue sea, long white sandy beach and green vegetation behind.
Codrington, the only ‘town’, was 2 miles over the lagoon from our anchorage. We kayaked across on the Friday and met another couple over there who had done the same thing. We missed the immigration office closing time but did arrange to be picked up the following morning at the Lighthouse Bay Hotel (a closed but actively maintained establishment on the west side of the lagoon and yours for $4m) by Solomon who would take us to see the Magnificent Frigate Bird colony.
We had a chance to wander around Codrington, single story painted houses mostly, dusty streets, a school, police station (apparently the two policemen came from Antigua but got fat as there is no crime on Barbuda, so nothing for them to do), seven churches for a population of about 1700, the ‘centre’, which is named ‘Madison Square’, where a lady cooks chicken under red and purple gazebos and reggae blasts out from a stack of loudspeakers. The island and its development are fascinating and may be the subject of a further post.
The following morning we launched the dinghy and motored up to the Lighthouse Bay Hotel on the seaward side, beached the dinghy and walked across to the jetty on the lagoon side. No sign of Solomon but a grumpy hotel minder contacted him and chided him for using the jetty of a private facility before arranging for him to come over and pick us up. We waited another half an hour and then gave up and went back to the dinghy to find a narrower section of beach to drag the dinghy across to the lagoon. Needless to say we saw Soloman when half way across but flagged him down and met up with him at Codrington. There we joined some American and German visitors and the party of seven headed off slightly reluctantly into the drizzle to see the Magnificent Frigate Birds. As we arrived it brightened up and the close view of the birds nesting in the mangrove was spectacular. The males yet to mate were puffing out their bright red throat pouches to attract the ladies and large white fluffy headed chicks were peering out from the nests.
Back in Codrington we tracked down the immigration lady by phone, found the customs office for more formalities (a room in a house) and went back to a tiny cafe at the jetty for wonderful fish and chips – butterfly fillets fried with a light spicy coating. The day was going well and even better, a taxi happened to come by and we arranged with the driver to take us on a two hour trip around the island. Much of the island is flat scrubland and donkeys, horses, wild boar, white-tailed deer, iguanas and guinea fowl roam freely. The “tour” included a visit to caves in the low limestone hills (former coral reefs) at the top of the island. One of the caves had been lived in by Arawak Indians at one time but we couldn’t discern the cave paintings that are supposed to be visible. A really interesting visit nevertheless. On the way back we stopped to look at our driver’s prize pumpkins and, despite the fact it was now gone 1730hrs, agreed to go and look at Pink Sand Beach. The sand on the island is crushed shells, some of the fragments of which are pink and where the pink proportion is higher the colour responds accordingly.
It was gone 1800hrs and getting dark by the time we headed back across the lagoon and with the full moon hidden behind the thick cloud we took the shortest crossing to the beach to launch into the sea while there was still some light. When we dragged the dinghy across to the beach we were shocked to find that the swell had risen and breaking waves were coming into the beach. We counted the waves, worked out the gaps, launched into a gap – and were quickly thrown back onto the beach. We decided to try further down, where Vega was anchored. We dragged the dinghy back over to the lagoon and motored down towards where we had previously come across in the kayak. We managed to find the spot in the dark but when we walked over to confirm our position Vega was gone!! Peer as we might there was no sign of her. Our only option was to go back to Codrington and find a room for the night and look again in the morning. And then, just as we were leaving, I made out a faint dark shape roughly where Vega should be and Annie confirmed the sighting. Relief!! (moral – leave the anchor light on if you might be returning in the dark or, as we have seen, get some solar powered garden lights). So, attempt to get across to the boat or head back into Codrington? Heart over-ruled head and in our desire to get back aboard decided to launch. We tied everything to the dinghy – shoes, fuel tank and most importantly dry bag containing cameras, phones and the all important iPad. With the noise of the crashing waves pounding in our ears we picked the gap and set off. I managed to get in and Annie yelled to paddle out – she would swim to the dinghy beyond the waves. I raised my head to move forward and grab the paddle only to see a wall of breaking water about to hit the dinghy. In a second the dinghy was flipped over with me on my back beneath. Between us we managed to turn the dinghy the right way up and drag it and anything we could see in the water up the beach. Soaked, tired and depressed we got the dinghy into the lagoon, tried the outboard motor that spluttered into life for a few seconds before dying and started rowing to Codrington. It was immediately clear that it would take ages to cover the two miles so we beached the dinghy, took stock of what we had lost and decided we had no option but to stay overnight on the beach. What we had lost was Annie’s shorts (and she appeared reluctant to appear in Codrington so under-dressed), the butternut squash from the shopping and, as I later realised, my Tilley hat. Everything else was intact and the dry bag had worked a treat. We had even saved a loaf of bread, still dry inside its plastic bag. We trudged off up the beach towards the Lighthouse Bay Hotel where we harboured an image of a room for the night, or in the immortal words of Emily Dickinson “might I tonight but moor in thee”. After a mile we came to a two storey wooden building that by day is a tea rooms for the yachties and day trippers. We could have slept on sun loungers on the terrace but we were getting bitten to death by the mosquitos and the Lighthouse Bay Hotel was calling so on we trudged for another mile. At the hotel one of the staff accommodation rooms had lights on inside so we knocked several times, eventually getting a very grumpy shouted response before the door was opened. There was the same man we had seen in the morning. We explained our predicament and for a moment I thought Annie was going to burst into tears for added emphasis. He phoned his boss in Nebraska in the USA (who had apparently been watching us wandering around his hotel on CCTV from Nebraska… a bit creepy), who said that we could have a room. We agreed a “price” based on whatever money we had on us and were shown to a self contained room with lounge, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom! Annie was in tears at this point. A few minutes later he came back with two bottles of water so we had a hot shower, washed through our clothes and had supper of bread and water in bed.
Neither of us slept particularly well because Annie was too hot without the air conditioning and I couldn’t sleep for the noise of it. Both of us reflected on what might have happened to us, the meaning of life and so on and I was conscious of the fact that we had to be up at 6am when our new friend would help us launch the dinghy. In the morning we went to look for him and found him, together with his colleague at the kitchen in the reception building where we had coffee and a chat before setting off in a small truck down the beach. The dinghy was farther away than they had imagined and we had to go back and swap the truck for a boat to get us down the lagoon. We couldn’t get the dinghy outboard working but the two of them assured us that, with their help, launching would be fine. They had done it many times and helped many yachties in similar difficulty. So off we went, into the water and – were soon knocked out of the dinghy by the force of the waves and back onto the beach with another drenching, the surf being if anything worse than the night before. Annie and I refused another attempt and our helpers went off, promising to to get the water taxi to take us and the dinghy back to the boat via the channel to the sea at the top end of the island. The water taxi arrived remarkably quickly and we had soon agreed a price (an expensive trip this was becoming), loaded the dinghy across the gunwales and were heading back up the lagoon. It took more than half an hour at high speed to reach Vega but we got there without further incident. Apparently the water taxi was used to carting dinghies back round to boats and we heard tales of lost dinghies, injured yachties and stranded crew, who had attempted similar launches off this beach.
Once back on board we watched two young guys from a nearby yacht go ashore in their dinghy, walk a long way up the beach and back, drag their dinghy across to the lagoon and then reappear on the seaward side several hours later, presumably via a quieter launch site further up the beach. Talking of which, two 60-somethings launching our dinghy on a steep beach into big surf in the dark was extremely foolhardy. We will try and avoid such risks in future – we value our lives and company too much to put it in that much jeopardy again.”