1015 hours. Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua.
“Winds perfect, fifteen knots,” Sunsail staffer Chris Donahue says at the skipper briefing, held in a two-centuries-old building.
Blue Voyage, a Sunsail Jenneau 41, is just as perfect as the winds. Perfect for anticipated seas (“Expect waves up to two meters,” warns Donahue), perfect for our manifest: I, my wife, Kim and Ed North, our dock neighbors back home in Canada.
Kim’s great company, Ed’s a great bartender, and the choice of Blue Voyage has to be Kismet. We all sail out of Toronto, Blue Voyage’s port of registry.
But I digress. The waters past Fort Belvedere, past a beach reclining at the base of steep slopes climbing Shirley Heights, home to last night’s bacchanal, a yachter’s rite of passage we generously shared with Kim and Ed, beckon.
Perfect start to a perfect voyage. A (dare I say it?) blue voyage.
Deep Bay. Winds perfect. Yet again. Doesn’t feel like Tuesday. Feels less like January.
Yesterday, back at the Sunsail base Donahue had told me about this anchorage. He was also spot-on about the weather. “Some good sailing days ahead,” he’d said.
Today so far looks great, yesterday nothing short of exhilarating.
West past Falmouth, past the most mountainous part of Antigua, green, lush, cottages and villas clinging to hills like splatters of color.
West then north, past indigo hills, past a concatenation of beaches. “A year’s worth,” said Donahue. “Anchor off a different one every night.”
Close-hauled to a towering headland, perfect sailing, skimming flat waters.
Pulled in beside another perfect beach, amber sands snugged down in the shelter of another colonial fort: Deep Bay.
Paradise for sure, but float plan calls for a longer passage today. Toward an even more certain paradise: Great Bird Island.
Wednesday and Thursday
(Sometime during the day.)
Winds howled like lonely coyotes through the night but we didn’t care.
Doyle talked about the variety of anchorages in Antigua, without equal in the Leewards.
I’d talk about day two of a duo of exhilarating passages, though this time we had to watch the chart and keep a sharp lookout.
Boon Passage is protected from the Atlantic but winds and waves still had a decent fetch of more than ten miles and we buried the rail right across from St. John’s harbour, turning east past Dickenson Bay. And we had to watch.
“Lots of shoals and reefs in Boon,” warned Donahue back at Sunsail. “Room to sail, but you have to know where you are.”
Today we are in paradise. Today and tomorrow. Or yesterday and today. Doesn’t seem to matter.
We have Great Bird to ourselves: two beaches, four people.
Now it’s sunset – Wednesday or Thursday, one of the two, maybe both. Cocktails in the cockpit as the sun scurries west.
“I could get used to this,” says Kim.
Civilization. Antigua-style. Slicing neon-lime waters, skirting incandescent sand, we end Friday at Jolly Harbour.
Mooring ball. Air conditioning. Ice. Out for dinner. Jerk chicken. Catch of the day. Home base for Horizon Yacht Charters.
Winds perfect again. I remember Donahue, back at English Harbour. “Some good sailing days ahead,” he said, a look of envy crossing his face. Smart fellow.
Today a broad reach on following seas. Seven knots. Past the capital, cruise ships lurking at the far end of the harbour, past the smattering of hotels lining Dickenson, sharing waters for a while with powerboats towing tourists high overhead.
Today great winds. A beam reach past rugged outcroppings of land, past perfect beaches we somehow missed on Wednesday.
Doyle may be right about the anchorages but I’m with Donahue. Good sailing days.
All too soon.
Great snorkel spot off Carlyle then a beach afternoon leaving Blue Voyage to her own devices while we act like tourists, do lunch on shore. There, at Pigeon Point, I gaze at her swinging on a mooring ball. She already looks lonely.
She’s been a trusty steed, a boat after my own heart though she’d languish at the dock tonight, and tomorrow we’d be on a plane back to snow.
But first that last passage, yearning for more water, more wind, more beaches, more anchorages courtesy of both Doyle and Donahue.
Then all too soon Clive Gilgeours from Sunsail roars up in his dinghy, climbs aboard, guides Blue Voyage in to a cobblestone seawall – itself the stuff of history.
And now, back here at Nelson’s Dockyard, the boat strains at her dock lines like a thoroughbred horse in the starting gate.
I raise my glass of English Harbour Rum from the cockpit of our erstwhile steed, toasting my wife Sharon, Kim, and Ed.
“To Antigua,” I pronounce pontifically. “And to Blue Voyage.”
For all things Antigua (in case you can pull yourself away from the boat), visit: www.antigua-barbuda.org
To plan a Sunsail bareboat charter, visit: www.sunsail.com/yacht-charter/destinations/caribbean/antigua/antigua
To hook up with Horizon Yacht Charters out of Jolly Harbour, go to: http://horizonyachtcharters.com/antigua-barbuda/
Mark Stevens is an award-winning travel writer whose specialties include Canada, the Caribbean and boating.