Our arrival in Antigua (pronounced “an-TEE-ga” – the u is silent) heralded two major events, our first trip back home since departing the mainland almost two years ago, followed by a visit to ¡Pura Vida! by one of our favorite couples. All the excitement aside, we had to prepare to leave our home unattended at a marina for two weeks while we traveled to New Orleans. We know cruisers who leave their boats all the time to travel back to the mainland, but for us, this was a first.
To backtrack a bit, Antigua was not where we planned to leave the boat initially, or meet our friends. One of the things we love about the cruising community is the helpful exchange of information. When we originally planned the trip back to New Orleans, we decided on St. Kitts because of the price of flights. But while discussing this with fellow cruisers over some cold beverages, several of our friends suggested that we should look at Antigua instead. We are so glad they did, and we took their advice. While St. Kitts would not have been a bad island to leave our boat and host friends, Antigua offers considerably more protected anchorages to explore with impressive scenery above and below the water. The northern reef that encircles a third of the island creates the ideal environment for quick day hops while staying in relatively calm waters.
We were eager to explore the island, but time was short, and we had to organize the boat and ourselves. After two days of packing and preparing the boat, we headed to the marina to secure ¡Pura Vida! The friendly staff at the Jolly Harbour Marina helped ease our pre-separation anxiety, as we knew we were leaving her in good hands. By noon the next day, we were in a taxi headed for the airport.
We flew to New Orleans. We drove a lot. We reunited with loved ones. We shopped. We flew back.
We returned to our floating home exhausted from our whirlwind trip in the U.S., and happy to have visited with family and friends. It seemed strange to pay for a marina and not enjoy its benefits, so we stayed for two nights after our return soaking up the unlimited water supply, fast wi-fi, and flowing 120 volt electricity…ahhhh. These little joys eased our transition from our land vacation back to boat life, but after two days we were itching to be back where we are happiest, on the hook in a secluded bay.
We wanted to explore the area before our friends arrived, so we bay-hopped along the north sound to scope out places we should visit with them. We were delighted to find extensive variety; from beaches full of activity and restaurants to compete isolation at uninhabited islands. The north sound is definitely an area to explore and enjoy nature. There are numerous small islands that are bird sanctuaries full of acrobatic terns, massive frigate birds, laughing seagulls, and even endangered West Indian whistling ducks. From most of our anchorages we could see turtles popping up nearby for a breath of air, goats defying gravity on sheer rock cliffs, and pelicans diving for a fishy snack. Below the water, scattered coral reefs provide a colorful variety of marine life, including some lionfish we could hunt. One anchorage, Deep Bay, even has a hundred-year-old wreck that is shallow enough to explore without SCUBA.
In addition to all the natural beauty, we also discovered a floating adult playground called D-Boat. This re-purposed oil tanker is now a permanently moored aquatic jungle gym with a full-service bar and kitchen. While they cater to land vacationers that pay an all-day, all-inclusive rate, they also allow cruisers to show up in their own dinghies, and pay a reduced fee to play on the toys. We went aboard just to do some fact-finding to prepare for our friends’ visit, but we ended up partying with a group of college students that were blowing off steam on their last day of a two-week study abroad program.
Ten days after our return to ¡Pura Vida! from New Orleans, our friends Shannon and Adam were scheduled to arrive from Washington, D.C. to visit for a week. So, of course, two days before their arrival one toilet clogs, the guest sink drain hose ruptures, the dinghy outboard refuses to start, and the watermaker stops making water. It was a frenzy of fixing things, but we fixed the toilet and sink, and got the dinghy working well enough that we could limp along during their visit without getting stranded. The watermaker would have to wait.
We had been looking forward to their visit for months and couldn’t wait to show them the area. We picked them up by dinghy, and they quickly got a dose of a true cruiser experience. On the way to the grocery and liquor store, the skies darkened and rain poured. We were just a hundred meters from the dock, but still got soaked. We all laughed it off and dripped our way through the store.
With ¡Pura Vida! loaded with food and wine, we weighed anchor. Hitting a new anchorage every day, we made our way back to the solitude of Great Bird Island and nearby Hell’s Gate Island. Naturally, we made a day stop at D-Boat to frolic on the water toys. Adam described it as the shadiest theme park he has ever seen, but we still had a blast. We jumped from a thirty foot plank, slid down a forty foot high slide, got launched in the air from a giant inflatable man, and acted like children for hours. Adding to the fun was an airline crew from the U.K. that was many drinks ahead of us, and had lost all inhibitions by the time we showed up. After our bodies were bruised and battered from all the activity, we bid our new airline friends adieu with a “full monty” drive-by and traveled a few miles to our evening’s anchorage.
Sadly, our week with our great friends went by too fast, and soon we were heading back to Jolly Harbour to drop them off, but we crammed a lot of fun and catching up into seven days. We captured and cleaned conch, went lionfish hunting, swam like fishes, and hiked ruins and beaches. We even got to celebrate Shannon’s first day officially retired from the U.S. Air Force while they were aboard. Now that our friends have departed, it time to do some maintenance on the boat and get serious about making our way south. Next stop: Guadeloupe!