ANTIGUA Date: 3rd March
Weather: Mostly overcast, some rain before arrival, very warm 26c, humid
Position: Latitude 17 deg. 7.2 min N Longitude 61 deg. 50.8 min W
They call Antigua “a beach with an island in the middle” for it is a good way to describe this charming island, with its little sisters Barbuda and Redonda, it forms the largest and most developed of the four British Leeward islands. Roughly circular, the island is about 12 miles in diameter and has some of the finest beaches in the Caribbean, more than 350 of them.
Some points of its history are, it was fought over by the French , Dutch and Spanish, but the British prevailed, as by the mid-1600s British planters from St Kitts colonised Antigua and used African slaves on the sugar plantations.
During the 18th and 19th centuries Antigua was the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief of the Leeward Islands Station and the principal British naval base in the Eastern Caribbean during the Napoleonic Wars. Admirals, Nelson, Rodney, Hood and Jarvis all made the dockyard at English Harbour their headquarters, and it was from here the Rodney sailed to the Battle of the Saints. It was also here that Nelson re-fitted his ships during his chase of the French Admiral Villeneuve, which ended at Trafalgar.
Alongside us at our berth in St Johns, which is the islands capital, was the cruise ship “Celebrity Eclipse” and we then discovered as we walked down the quay that beyond the Celebrity ship there were two other big cruise ships, one a Thompson ship which was for German passengers, and the MSC Majesty . So Antigua was going to be a busy place that day. We joined our friends Marilyn and John with the idea of a taxi tour, once outside the quays gate there were plenty of options for this, most of the taxis are the people carrier type, and our driver Alwen wanted 6 people, so we were linked up with a Scottish couple who were from the Celebrity ship. As the day went along all six of us plus Alwen got along very well. ( Alwen was a real card!) Just outside the quayside gates, there were many colourful waterfront buildings with shops etc. with a board walk along the front of them, it set the hole harbour front off really well .( something we thought we`d look at later)
The biggest tourist attraction on the island (apart from its beaches) is Nelson`s Dockyard in English Harbour, so that was going to be our first port of call, it took us a bit of time to clear the town of St John`s and our route took us across the island. As we neared our stop we had lovely view of a marina, and that was Falmouth Harbour, for us who come from Cornwall ( UK ) it’s a very familiar name as we visit Falmouth quite a lot. The whole complex of Nelsons Dockyard and English Harbour is a national park, so an entrance fee is necessary to get in. But that fee is well worth it, for they have a fine asset, the whole dockyard fell into disrepair, so in 1951 a Friends of English Harbour association was set up, and the results are there for all to see. A lot of the old original buildings are still there, such places as Admirals house, Old Guard house, and a Copper and Lumber store, inside each of the buildings was a small museum of that particular function of the yard. It was a real dockyard with all the trades associated with ship repair in it. We only had a short time there just ½ hour, speaking to people later aboard ship everyone wished they had more time there. From the English Harbour we drove to a nearby viewing point called Shirley Heights, in the heyday of the harbour, at this viewing point there was a fort to protect the harbour. You could see many miles of the coastline and much of the island, one older local taxi driver could remember when he was a boy, that much of what we could see of the island was used to grow cotton, which was then sent to England to be processed, but now that same view was what looked like scrub land with the occasional building on it.
Moving on we took in another part of the island, it`s what they called their rainforest, it was certainly more lush with many high trees and banana plantations but not the dripping forest we had seen on other islands. Now our route took us to the coast and we had some great views of many fine beaches, from one of those beaches Alwen pointed out the island of Montserrat, I don`t know how far it was but at a guess 15 miles, the volcano is still puffing out a plume of smoke, which hung over its crater.
Occasionally Alwen would break out into song with some of Bob Marley hits and we would all join in, it made for a good atmosphere. Buy this time we had nearly completed our tour as we were on the outskirts of St Johns, when we were dropped off we had a quick look at the colourful shops we’d seen earlier. So I think we had had 3 ½ hours of what was the best about Antigua, so we can go away with some good memories of Antigua and of course Alwen.
We were the second of the four ships to leave, but it was a great sail-away with flat calm seas and another great sun set. So we`re off to our last port of call Ponta Delgada in the Azores.
Sorry for the delay in posting this blog, just relaxing at sea after our 8 islands in the Caribbean.