From our vantage point at Shirley Heights 300ft above cerulean waters off Antigua’s most southerly point, we can see the ghostly blue outline of Montserrat.
We perch on bastions carved from volcanic boulders, high atop a mountain studded with cacti and intrepid goats.
The waters far below are striated with white foam. They change to turquoise and teal offshore, royal blue toward the horizon.
A lone sailboat, running west before the wind, dominates a picture that includes a historic harbour known as Nelson’s Dockyard.
Nelson was stationed here, commander of the Leeward Fleet, but he never much liked the place.
We’ve been sailing here for a week now – our third Antiguan charter – and this is our last day on island.
I’ve always liked Nelson but he didn’t have much taste in real estate.
Sail here in Antigua and you’ll know what I mean. Nor am I the only sailor enamored with Antigua as a cruising destination.
Michael van Rensburg, Antigua’s base manager for Sunsail, calls Antigua “one of the best islands to sail in the Caribbean.”
The history here is one attraction. Charter with Sunsail and your home port is a working Georgian dockyard. There is a 1671 record of a yacht chartered to the governor of the Leewards for the purpose of ‘Chasing ye pirates’.
The wind’s another. “Never have to worry about the winds here,” former Sunsail base manager Dan Harradine told me during my first briefing.
But for me, despite the potential thrill of chasing both pirates and wind, the chief appeal is the wealth of anchorages in Antigua.
In his Cruising Guide to the Leeward Islands (The Cruising Guide), Doyle calls Antigua “exceptional, with more anchorages than any other country in the Leewards. You could cruise here for two weeks without stopping at the same anchorage twice. And you would enjoy great variety.”
Stop at Carlisle Bay for a night. Swim with sea turtles. Traverse the west coast. Stop for lunch off Ffryes Beach, an alabaster swathe of sand guarded by a lone ancient sugar mill, a procession of green and blue mountains for backdrop.
Drop the hook off Jolly Beach, a popular water sport destination. Or dock overnight and treat yourself to the delights of a multitude of restaurants – party central during Antigua Sailing Week.
On our first trip here we’d booked a skipper for the first couple of days, following this selfsame course. There was method to my madness. I’d get the inside track on Antigua’s best anchorages.
I was right. On a beam reach doing six knots up the west coast, past beaches and vistas that would make a power boater cry, I pulled out a paper chart and tapped it with my finger.
Former Sunsail skipper Karl Bryan was a coast guard auxiliary, and an Antiguan. He knew these waters like the back of his hand.
“In North Sound you can tuck into Bird Island – great anchorages, bunch of gorgeous islands in there, great snorkelling. Dickenson Bay has lots of great restaurants ashore.”
As we beat north, we passed just outside five islands, small but spectacular. Karl pointed to a long, deep bay off our starboard beam. A cavalcade of mountains rose up out of the sea and marched in an unbroken line toward the Atlantic. Two sailboats raced for a small island at the end of the bay.
“Five Islands Bay is beautiful,” he said. “Hardly anyone goes there. It’s so peaceful …”
“What about Barbuda?” I interjected. “We have to get to Barbuda.”
Michael van Rensburg calls the beach off Barbuda “the best beach in the world.”
So we did Barbuda. He was right, even though our float plan is less ambitious this time. I’m happy to get to my own favourite: Green Island—neon-green water leading to a deserted beach but for a couple walking hand-in-hand—foaming white surf fringing a vibrant reef.
Three or four other boats share the anchorage but I don’t mind the company. Better taste in real estate than Nelson.
Forget the winds. Forget the pirates. This trip I’ve been chasing the perfect anchorage.
And it strikes me, as I sip a Cuba Libre fortified by English Harbour rum, that I’ve done a heck of a job.
Mark Stevens is an award-winning travel writer whose specialties include Canada, the Caribbean and boating. Credits range from Sailing Magazine and Canadian Yachting to the Washington Post.
What are some of your favorite Anchorages in Antigua? Chime in through the comments below