Marvelous weather! Fair winds and following seas. We finally left 60 degrees west to head for Antigua. The day was clear and the night was warm. We had a pod of about 20 dolphins playing at the bow at sunrise. Suddenly, the weather was so nice and conditions so serene, that I felt a tinge of melancholy about our impending arrival. Sure, it will be nice to get there, but I'm going to miss the wonderful solitude and the stars on the clear nights. If it were like this, I could easily spend a month out here with the clouds and the waves on my thoughts. I knew when we got to shore it was going to be very busy. We were finally getting close enough to need to slow down to avoid landfall at night - this takes the strain off the boat and us. We had not much to do, but watch the sky and wait for a big green piece of land to appear.
Well we are really closing in on it now, we have less than 100 miles left and have slowed down to avoid arriving at night. The wind is now behind us and we are going slow with relatively little sail up. The day was so hot that sleeping inside during the day was difficult (we keep the hatches closed underway to prevent waves getting in). I wish it had been this way more of the time. Just after sunset, Maryanne spotted some lights on the horizon, looking through the binoculars showed them to be the very top blinking lights from two different radio towers on Antigua - "Land Ho!".
Our first day in Paradise. I came on watch at midnight after sleeping fitfully with anticipation. By then, there were lights from a couple of towns clearly visible and the once empty horizon was busy. Maryanne had shortened sail further and we were now scheduled to arrive just after sunrise. The bright moon was a day from being full, and in the light I could see squalls approaching from the east (now we have to look East to see what weather is headed towards us). The wind had slowly started to die so I decided to wait until the squall passed. As it arrived, the wind, rather than increasing, stopped completely and just poured buckets of straight down rain for 30 minutes or so. Afterward the wind never came back up. I shook out all the reefs from the sails and was able to start moving at a speed between zero and almost zero (bloody hell!). After an hour or so, it did finally come back up again and with full sail we seemed to be back on schedule.
Another squall passed with no wind and then blocked from view the whole island until it passed over that too. I woke Maryanne at 5:45 just as it was getting light out, we could only see the outline of Antigua's hills in the heavy rains. Just as we were getting ready to make the turn around the SE corner of the island, yet another squall hit. The wind rose to almost 30kt, and I got drenched. Ordinarily we can carry full sail up to 18kt. Wind force increases by the speed squared so we suddenly had way to much sail up. I turned downwind to reduce the relative wind speed, but that heading was directly towards shallow water. I had to hope the squall would run its course before we got to the rocks. Otherwise, Maryanne was going to have to get wet reefing while I steered (as opposed to hiding out inside as she prefers in the rain). The squall did run out before any risk of hitting land, but we could see that there were more and more lined up behind. Looking at the island and the heavy rain, Maryanne remarked that it looked and felt like we were about to make landfall in Scotland, not tropical Antigua.
English Harbour is approached from the SE by heading right at what looks like a high rocky shore. Only at the last minute does a gap open up and allow us to see the masts nested within. As soon as we got in, the protection of the surrounding high ring of hills stopped the fierce wind and the water flattened. The place is actually pretty small, and filled with boats from all over, many of which seem to have been here for quite a while ([Maryanne] Many look as though they have been abandoned to the elements, but we noticed lights aboard in the evening so I guess we've seen some exotic boat bums now!]) [Kyle] We searched for a spot to anchor and managed to find one just big enough in the North end of Ordinance Bay, but the anchor dragged - twice. We went around the corner to Tank Bay, just in front of Nelson's dock yard (as in, of course, Admiral Horatio Nelson) and found a spot between another catamaran and shore, close enough that we could almost jump to either.
The rain stopped for a while, and the sun came out. It got HOT. I'm talking Houston in the summer HOT. Everything which had been soaking in the rain started steaming - man was it HOT. I put on some long pants and a long sleeve shirt (torture) to look respectable for my visit to customs. On the way it rained hard again, and I was drenched again. My glasses were useless for seeing through. At customs and immigration I managed to meet what so far had been the only 4 people on the island in a perpetual bad mood (It's universal isn't it? The official role of all officials?) I had to return to the boat after clearing customs so that Maryanne could present herself to Immigration, she was in the process of tidying the boat for a possible custom's inspection and was rapidly loosing her cool. Everytime the sun came out she would open the hatches for some air, then it would rain and she would have to run around closing them and sweat in the still heat of the boat ([Maryanne] I never did get around to making those rain covers for the hatches - my own fault)
[Kyle]We went ashore, cleared immigration and paid our port fees, then went for a stroll around. Nelson's dock yard was surprisingly small and trim and very quiet. We had expected that a place so big in the sailing world would resemble Annapolis or Newport, but busier and more touristy (like Martha's Vineyard?). Not so. The place has the atmosphere of a sleepy little backwater. We decided it must still be off season. The few locals were friendly and spoke in Caribbean accents so thick that we could barely understand them. Fortunately, like the Scots, they can tone it down to a tourist English that we can just make out.
Our goal for the day though was not tourism, but to quickly dispense with some pressing "non fun" jobs that needed doing. We spoke to a sail maker who said to get in today in order to avoid a line for fixing our salami. We also desperately needed to do laundry. We had wet clothes and some bedding that really needed refreshing.
We rushed back to the boat in the heat, packed everything up and headed to shore with our laundry and sail. On the way, one of our oars broke - just broke in half - it wasn't even a tough row! Exactly 3 seconds later, a squall came through and we found ourselves just making headway with me using the working oar and Maryanne using the stump as a paddle. We didn't make it to the dinghy dock, but manged to pull ourselves ashore using dock lines from a couple of boats we were being blown into. Nobody seemed to mind much - after all it must have been good entertainment.
I shouldered the sail bag and Maryanne got the laundry and then it rained, again! Maryanne's 25lb of laundry probably had 40lb of water in it by the time we made it to the laundry facility. The laundry attendant (Elizabeth. Antigua seems to have an attendant for everything) explained that she would do our laundry for us and we could collect it at 4:30. Lovely, we thought, that will free us to go to the Chandler (boat store) to find the other stuff we wanted from our list. Then she said it would be $36US for 3 loads (note it would have been $30US for us to do it ourselves). Are you freaking kidding me? we didn't pay that in NY city! She is the only game in town, and we REALLY needed clean laundry (which did come back clean smelling and nicely folded). Feeling ripped off and hungry, we decided to go for a quick bite and a coldie at the local cheap looking waterfront bar. $40 later we had two Carib beers each and two flavorless, greasy sandwiches - no bargain here.
The rumor was that we could find a good chandler in the next village over (about 1 mile). We had some time to kill, so we took a walk over. The chandlery was odd. It was very large, the shelves were full, yet it contained almost nothing of any use. They did have gallons and gallons of varnish and varnishing supplies; I guess when the mega-yachts arrive, this is what the crews get to do - know your customer eh! We were directed down the road another mile or so to another place. More varnish. The procedure was: you went in, they immediately asked you what you wanted, and if they thought they may have it, they would send an attendant to go and get it, the attendant would come back and say they didn't have it. We would then be asked to join the attendant and confirm for ourselves that they didn't have it. (no oars, no float cushions, no sail tape, no not'ing!) As we continued to try "the next place down the road", eventually this devolved into a mad walk in the hot sun down the main road trying to find the next option in time to turn around and still collect our laundry. Eventually at our last option, on the other side of the next harbour over, we found a rigger in an empty office who said she could order the parts for our main sail and genoa furler (head sail). We happily agreed and handed over our credit card without daring to ask how much. We went to a final chandlery that also had no parts we needed before we eventually came across a inflatable/liferaft shop who told us he had oars on order (come back Monday). In the mean time, he lent us an odd oar that would work "for now". So so far, during the long hot day, we had accomplished one thing, and our dinghy now rows in much bigger circles.
On the return to the dinghy with our loaner oar and our fresh laundry, we stopped by the local wireless (wifi internet) provider who explained we were anchored in the one place in English Harbour with no signal. Back at the boat we were exhausted, and defeated by lack of progress - we decided to move the boat so at least we would have internet access. We upped anchor and headed for a couple of likely spots, only to find we were too close to other boats, or the shore, or we dragged. During this, of course, it rained heavily; hard cold rain, and it was starting to get dark, adding urgency to the situation. Eventually, we found a less than ideal spot in Ordinance Bay that at least had a wifi signal. By the end of the day, Maryanne had put down and hauled up the anchor about 7 times, mostly in the heavy rain. Safely anchored, we dove inside to the dry of the boat and decided to at least tidy up before finally going to bed. We were actually feeling pretty miserable. So much for Paradise. We ended the day feeling hot, wet, broke, and disappointed that we had not accomplished more. The rumor is that this weather is caused by a trough going through, and that it does not normally rain here 5 minutes out of every 10 - we are looking forward to the trough passing.
Our sails are with the Sailmaker, our clean sheets are on the bed, the critical parts are on order. We have a few minor things to fix on the boat, so as soon as the rain is over, we plan to be serious tourists and really explore Antigua. We expect subsequent updates to be a lot more exotic and fun.