The dual-island nation of Antigua & Barbuda has proven a magnet to mariners for hundreds of years. First came the Amerindians in times BC paddling north from South America. Christopher Columbus spotted the islands in 1492 but didn’t stay. The English planted their flag on Antigua and Barbuda in the 1600’s and less than a century later famous British Admiral, Horatio Nelson, lived at the Royal Navy Dockyard. Fast forward, the dockyard is where the Nicholson family started the concept of yacht chartering aboard their schooner Mollyhawk in the late 1940s. Today, Antigua especially is a hub for yacht chartering with everything from a family-sized bareboat or crewed yacht to a superyacht big enough for the rich and famous and their friends. Charter companies include Nicholson Yacht Charter & Services and The Moorings, both in English Harbour, and Dream Yacht Charter and TradeWinds at the Jolly Harbour Marina.
“Antigua and Barbuda’s spectacular coastline makes it world-renowned for its sailing and yachting. The destination boasts some of the best sailing conditions and the finest first-class, landside yachting facilities in the region. Antigua and Barbuda’s scenic and quiet anchorages make the destination perfect for cruising and private charters,” says Maria Blackman, marketing communications manager for the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority.
Here is a suggested 7-day itinerary around Antigua. If you have an extra day or two, sail 25 nm north from Dickinson Bay, Antigua, to Low Bay, Barbuda, east of the Codrington Lagoon. Wildlife, including birdlife, is spectacular here, plus the sand on the long strip of beach here is a beautiful pink. Coco Point, on Barbuda’s southern shores, is a great spot to swim and snorkel in the reef-protected bay before returning to Antigua.
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Day 1: Jolly Harbour Marina to Deep Bay.
After arriving at your yacht the afternoon before and spending the first night aboard, sail 7 to 8 miles north to Deep Bay, where the star attraction is a chance to dive on the 1905 wreck of the Andes. This old wood and iron carrier caught fire while on anchor here en route from Trinidad to Peru and sank in the middle of the bay. Its mast still sticks up and out of the water occasionally making the perfect X marks the spot. “In the afternoon, go ashore and hike up to historic Fort Barrington. Views from here span to St. Kitts & Nevis to the west and Montserrat to the southwest,” says Ricardo Flores, head of charter sales for TradeWinds.
Day 2: Deep Bay to Long Island.
Cruise about 9 miles along Antigua’s northern shores to Long Island. This 100-acre island, located off the tip of Parham Peninsula, is the fifth-largest island in this nation and home to the exclusive five-star Jumby Bay Resort. Swim, snorkel or sun or stroll the beach. Since the resort restaurants are for guests only, dine onboard or dinghy over to one of the restaurants on Antigua’s northeast shore.
Day 3: Long Island to Green Island.
It’s an island-hopping day. Start with a very short sail east to Great Bird Island. This 20-acre islet, reachable only by boat, is home to a small wildlife sanctuary. Look for red-billed tropicbirds, West Indian whistling ducks and the Antiguan racer snake, the latter of which the entire world population lives here. A short hike puts you atop this uninhabited islet with spectacular views overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. After lunch, dinghy to Hells Gate Island. The caves are the main attraction. Seek out one of the guides for a tour. Next, head out through the reefs to the Atlantic Ocean and Antigua’s eastern coast to overnight off Green Island. “Green Island has a lovely bay to anchor in and is a good place to enjoy watersports,” says Sarah Sebastian, owner of Nicholson Yacht Charter & Services.
Day 4: Green Island to Falmouth Harbour.
After breakfast, TradeWinds Flores recommends sailing to Indian Creek. “Pending on sea conditions, you may decide to dive the canyons of Sunken Rock.” This is the only known wall dive in Antigua, with a vertical drop from 6- to 80-feet. It’s recommended only for certified divers. Afterwards, cruise to Pigeon Beach in Falmouth Harbour. The beach is beautiful. Plus, for later, if you’d like to dine out, there are over a dozen restaurants ashore from a West Indian roti shack to white-tablecloth eateries. Spend the night in the bay. You’ll usually be in the company of several mega yachts.
Day 5: Falmouth Harbor to English Harbour.
It’s a fast, but fabulously beautiful 2 nm sail around to English Harbour. Along the way, stop to dive or snorkel at the Pillars of Hercules, natural rock formations carved with the sea, wind and rain. After that, go ashore to tour Nelson’s Dockyard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s an ideal spot to learn the history of the British fleet stationed here in the 18th century. If there’s still time in the day, hike to either Fort Berkeley or Shirley Heights lookout, the latter of which is an ideal place for pre-dinner cocktails.
Day 6: English Harbour to Jolly Harbour.
After breakfast, “dive or snorkel in the open water aquarium of Lobster Point before taking a leisurely sail to the long stretch of sandy beaches all along the west shore of Antigua for a dip,” suggests TradeWinds Flores. Spend the last night of charter sampling from among the many restaurants in the Jolly Harbour area.
Day 7: Jolly Harbour.
On this last day, “breakfast aboard, gather belongings and depart for home, making plans for another charter again in the future,” invites Flores.