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A Wreck In Antigua

May 15th,

Race Week in Antigua is fantastic. Hundreds of boats fill the harbors, all day the coastline is filled with racing boats, and all night the bars are filled with thirsty sailors. It's one big party... so I've heard. We arrived in Antigua a week after 'race week' and were happily surprised to have the island mostly to ourselves.

Miranda and I anchored in English Harbour. This bay provides superb shelter from hurricanes and was used by the British in the time of Nelson as a site for a Caribbean shipyard. Today the buildings of the shipyard lay in ruin and the boats seeking shelter are yachts. A number of the old buildings have been restored and serve as charming settings for hotels, restaurants, bars, sail lofts, and other yacht friendly businesses. Antigua is often considered the yachting center of the Caribbean as it was where the now booming charter business got its start back in 1950 when one wise soul realized people would pay him to do what he did for fun, sail.

Miranda and I spent a lazy afternoon walking around the ruins and browsing through a fairly sparce 4 room museum. The fourth room of the museum was the 'Interactive Learning Room' which was the best room by far. Miranda watched for adults while I excitedly climbed the rope ladder, raised and lowered a mock sail, and posed as Admiral Horatio Nelson in his full regalia.

In the heat of the day we decided our best move was to retreat, so we sought shelter on the boat and took a well deserved nap before our hike up to Shirley Heights. We had been told that Shirley Heights was 'The Place' to be on Thursday and Sunday nights. We had also been told that there was a hiking trail that led up to the peak where the bar was perched. Granted we were told all of this by an Australian who had enjoyed Shirley Heights the previous week by having a few drinks, in preparation for falling on his face down a flight of stone steps. But, since he was still smiling about the place we figured it must be good.

Well rested we set off on our hike around 5pm which gave us a good two hours before dark fell. The well marked trail wound its way through the desert hills. The dramatic difference in climate and vegetation between Guadeloupe (only 40 miles to the south) and Antigua was remarkable. In Guadeloupe a couple days before we had been hiking through rain forest with waterfalls cascading down from above. Here we were walking past cactus and bromilliads. The difference is due to the fact that Antigua is not a mountainous island and therefore does not catch the clouds as the taller islands do. Historically the lack of water was not completely negative as the lack of swamps meant less breeding ground for mossies and consequently fewer deaths from yellow fever and malaria.

When living on a boat without refrigeration one will climb a long way for a cold beer, and knowing there was a bar at the end of the trail sure helped morale on the hike up! Plopping our sweaty selves down at the bar we thoughtfully decided to conserve the scarce island water and ordered two cold beers. The steel band on the patio was already plinking away and Miranda and I were ready to relax... until we went to pay for the first round and couldn't find our wallets.

A quick but important warning: NEVER touch a womans hand bag if you know what's good for you. I learned this lesson the hard way. Before going ashore I had put both of our wallets into Miranda's bag, or so I thought. Once up at the bar Miranda found the bag void of money and wallets. Now, Miranda's bag has more pockets than a kangaroo in a fishing vest, and apparently I had put the wallets in the WRONG pocket. But, of course we didn't realize this until after I had taken a taxi down to the boat and ripped it apart looking for the wallets. Not finding them I took the taxi back up to the bar, where Miranda met me with the wallets in hand. The taxi driver was relieved, and needless to say, so were we!

The next day the island was excitedly talking about the 5 day cricket test match between India and the West Indies. Listening to the match on the radio left me bewildered even after an explanation of cricket's finer points from both a Brit and an Aussie. But, then it was hard to convince me that any activity which includes tea breaks can be considered a sport.

Happily we found some folks that Miranda could not only talk cricket with, but with whom she could explain to me the superiority of the Australian cricket team. On the other side of the bay sat a blue ketch with both an American and Australian flag. Since this is the same flag configuration as Baggywrinkle flys we felt we should go say hello. And it was good we did, for in doing so we met a wonderful Australian couple, John and Alison. They had been living in Florida for the past 5 years and were now sailing their way to Australia aboard True Blue, an Allied Seawind II (a boat built by the same company as Baggywrinkle). We spent the next few days enjoying their company, sharing stories over drinks at the bar, and eating dinner together on both Baggywrinkle and True Blue. One of John's many skills was Scuba. He had been a Scub instructor in Florida and had brought with him on the boat a hooka system that allowed 4 people to dive simultaneously on long hoses. He offered to take us out to the reef and go for a dive, and we didn't hesitate in accepting. He took out the Hooka, a small petrol run compressor with hoses and regulators attached, and put it in his dinghy. Then Miranda and I followed John and Alison out to the reef in our dinghy. After a professional explanation of the dive procedure (John was very safety conscious, for which we were thankful) we donned our gear and flopped in the water. The long hoses leading to the surface and the lack of a tank on the back took a little getting used to, but a few breaths into the dive it became quite natural.

We said goodbye to John and Alison the next day and picked up anchor intending to head up to Barbuda. But, once we got out of the harbour we realized that the wind was dead on the nose. We decided we had beat our brains out against the wind enough already on the trip and we ducked into a harbour on the west side of Antigua called Deep Bay. We enjoyed the afternoon by snorkeling over the wreck of an old tanker that was only in 20 feet of water. The water was a little cloudy and the wreck, which was covered in sponges and coral, eerily appeared only after we had gotten quite close. We swam over, around, and through the wreck, watching the resident fish and reconstructing the vessel in our minds.

The next morning we really did leave Antigua, this time on a broad reach and headed toward Nevis...