Passage from Bahamas to Antigua for Christmas | Distant Shores Sailing Newsletters

Passage from Bahamas to Antigua for Christmas

January 1, 2009

Green Island
Nonsuch Bay, Antigua

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Today we are writing from the lovely anchorage at Green Island in Antigua where last night we brought in the New Year to the sound of blaring boat horns. There are only 5 or 6 boats in the anchorage but there was lots of celebrating as the Old Year went out and the New Year came in. After all, here we all are, enjoying a warm winter in the tropics aboard our own boats and looking forward to more adventures in the coming season. Everyone feels truly blessed.

We have sailed quite a few miles since our last newsletter in December so would like to bring you up to date on the great destinations we've visited since then aboard our Southerly 42 sailboat, Distant Shores, on our route south from Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas to the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean.

Matt and Paul load on jerry jugs at Harbour View Marina, Marsh Harbour

In the December newsletter we spoke of exploring the Abacos, a group of islands in the northern Bahamas. After arriving there from Florida in early December, we worked our way east from Walkers Cay (pronounced “key”) where we cleared in and “island-hopped” our way to Marsh Harbour, one of the main towns in this popular cruising area. Marsh Harbour is a good place to refuel and take on provisions, in our case for the next leg of our voyage south, a 7-day offshore passage to Antigua in the Caribbean.

We have now travelled nearly 13,000 nautical miles aboard Distant Shores including a transatlantic passage but this next offshore leg was to be one of the toughest we have had to date. We planned an "uphill" passage of 1100 miles from the Bahamas directly to Antigua rather than taking the more time-consuming, though interesting, day-sailing “thorny path” to windward through the islands (the yellow route on the map below).

It was early December and possibly past the best time to do this offshore passage to the Caribbean (if there is a best time since the prevailing winds are always on the nose) but if you play the winds right, jumping offshore is the quickest way to get south for the winter. (Note: There is a rally every November called the Caribbean 1500 that leaves from Norfolk VA to make passage to the Virgin Islands if you're interested in joining a group to do this passage to the Caribbean.)

Route planning for the upcoming 7-day passage from Marsh Harbour to Antigua

Basically our route-planning and weather strategy was this: We waited for a cold front to approach. You would expect the wind to clock around from the prevailing easterlies to the south and southwest and get stronger as the front approaches. We used these southerly winds to head more or less directly east. When the front caught up with us, the wind shifted to the northwest, then the north, and then the northeast. Northeast is on the nose but at this point we had made a couple of hundred offshore miles to the east and could now lay off on a close-hauled tack and head south for the Caribbean. The problem with this strategy is that you don't know how strong the front will be. In our case we saw winds of 30 knots with and after the passage of the front. On the bright side, we were never forced to tack. By reefing heavily we could stay close-hauled and make our course directly to Antigua although it was a very bumpy ride.

Matt Heron joins us for the passage to Antigua.

Aboard Distant Shores for the passage as guest crew was Matt Heron, an Australian ex-pat living in Dubai who is thinking of buying a boat like ours and wanted to test out the Southerly 42's offshore abilities. Matt was certainly the most cheerful, tough and optimistic crew anyone could hope to have on a difficult passage like this. He quickly got into the routine on Distant Shores and could always be counted on to jump in and help when anything needed doing.

Matt is also an excellent cook and he and Sheryl did a great job of provisioning the boat. We stayed at Harbour View Marina in Marsh Harbour which is conveniently located within walking distance of most shops, services and restaurants. There are several other marinas as well as a large anchorage.

We set sail in good spirits on Thursday December 11th with a front approaching as planned to make our way east. It took us all much longer than normal to get our sea legs on this passage with the initially strong winds and rough conditions that accompanied the passage of the front. For those first few days none of us felt like eating much more than cheese and crackers, peanut butter, yoghurt or soup, despite all the great provisions we'd laid on and nice meals Sheryl had planned.

Sheryl at sea in the galley of our Southerly 42.

Distant Shores, however, seemed to thrive. She happily charged through the pounding seas and we hung on for the ride! She really is an excellent upwind sea boat.

We faced all points of sail on the first 2 days from strong south winds clocking around to west and northwest behind us as they built in strength. Then we were fairly close-hauled for Days 3-5 making fast miles to the Caribbean.

Only on the last 2 days did we see easier conditions as the wind lightened and we enjoyed romping along, passing the Virgin Islands, St Martin, St. Kitts and finally reaching Antigua on December 18. It took us 7 days to go 1100 miles. We were very proud of Distant Shores. This was a tough test and she came through with shining colours. We made landfall at Nelson's Dockyard Marina in English Harbour, Antigua, and spent a few days cruising around this lovely island before Matt flew home.

Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbour, Antigua.

One of our favourite anchorages is at Green Island in Nonsuch Bay. Matt is a keen kite surfer and had brought his gear with him so he had a lot of fun kite surfing here.

Before Matt left to meet his family for Christmas we had an opportunity to demonstrate how you can beach our boat. We motored up Indian Creek, a mangrove creek which would offer good protection in a storm including an hurricane. Another advantage of the Southerly's shallow-draft swing keel is that you have more choices of safe harbours to run to in storm conditions since there are many good hurricane holes that are too shallow for most other cruising boats.

Distant Shores beached in Indian Creek, Antigua.

As the water got more shallow we raised the keel and when we found a clear shallowing shoreline we gently ran the boat aground leaving a little bit of the keel down. This was so that when we wanted to get back off we could raise the keel more and reverse away. There is a large metal grounding plate on the bottom of the Southerly's hull to protect it when grounding. The boats were designed so they could be left on moorings that dry out twice a day at low tide so are built to withstand many groundings and have been put to the test for 40 years. This is one of the things that gave us confidence in Southerly yachts.

Matt puts out a bow anchor where we're beached in Indian Creek, Antigua.

If you'd like to see a detailed demonstration of the beaching procedure check out our DVD, “Distant Shores Season 5: The Med to the Caribbean and the Bahamas” which has a “how-to” segment on beaching and un-beaching the boat in the Bahamas. It's available along with all the other Distant Shores DVDs in our online store.

John and Dee Swain join us as crew for Christmas.

On December 21st we returned to English Harbour to meet guests, Dee and John Swain, long-time sailors who have been following episodes of the Distant Shores TV series for several years on Travel Channel in England. The Swain's are planning to go cruising in the future so joined our crew for Christmas week to try their hand at sailing in the tropics. Together with Matt, we left English Harbour for an afternoon sail out into the sea and around to Falmouth Harbour, a base for some of the world's most impressive mega-yachts.

Mega-yachts in Falmouth Harbour.

We stayed at the Catamaran Marina at the north end of Falmouth Harbour which has a good little grocery store within easy walking distance. Dee and I did the shopping, stocking up on fresh provisions to keep us going for another week of cruising while the guys set to work on the boat maintenance and repairs list. Like Matt, Dee and John were a pleasure to have on board.

John and Paul at bow in Falmouth Harbour servicing anchor windlass.

Throughout the week Dee treated us to her good cooking and John who has impressive technical skills worked with Paul to keep the boat running smoothly. John really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about our Raymarine electronic navigation system which uses Navionics charts as well as our Mastervolt generator and inverter charger. See Paul's New Boat Blog for more information. If you haven't seen this, it contains a series of articles Paul has written about the equipment we have chosen to install on Distant Shores and reasons for doing so.

Paul demonstrates the features of our Raymarine E80 chartplotter to John.

Since it was Sunday, we organized for a taxi to pick up the 5 of us in the late afternoon to drive us to the top of Shirley Heights BBQ held there every Sunday and Thursday Night BBQ. Sunday is the biggest event and we danced to the sound of the steel drums as we took in the breath-taking view of English and Falmouth Harbours.

View from Shirley Heights.

The next morning we headed west from Falmouth Harbour along the south coast of Antigua and up to Five Island Harbour where we anchored in Hermitage Bay in front of the resort there. Five Island Harbour is quite a large natural harbour and we had several anchorages to choose from within it. We chose Hermitage Bay because the beach and resort are both lovely to look at and we could get a good wifi signal there :-)

John anchoring in Hermitage Bay.

Our next stop and Matt's point of departure was on the south coast at Jolly Harbour, a large marina and resort and also one of the three official ports of call in Antigua, along with English Harbour and the main port at St. John's (Note: officials have told us that it's better if cruisers do not clear in or out at St. John's since the officers there are always very busy with commercial and passenger vessels). We tied to the convenient Customs dock at Jolly Harbour and went in to the office to officially remove Matt from our crew list since he would be flying home, not leaving Antigua aboard the boat.

Saying goodbye to Matt at the customs dock at Jolly Harbour.

With John at the wheel we continued back east stopping for a night at Carlisle Bay where we snorkelled and swam. Then next day we arrived back at English Harbour to join in the traditional Christmas celebrations for the next couple of days.

Distant Shores at Nelson's Dockyard for Christmas.

We had dinner on Christmas Eve at Trappas, one of our favourite local restaurants and later were entertained by carollers at the Admiral's Inn in Nelson's Dockyard. Christmas morning we opened gifts with John and Dee under our boat-sized Christmas tree and then enjoyed a Christmas pancake breakfast with friends Petr and Katharina aboard Endless Voyage, their Catana 472 catamaran. All around us other cruising sailors were enjoying the day aboard their decorated boats.

Many were wearing Christmas costumes...

... including some of their pets!

Local bands played in the Dockyard all day.

Bottles of champagne were sold from a dinghy filled with ice, all proceeds going to the local women's shelter.

But it didn't stop there! Along with all this we enjoyed a lazy Christmas lunch – roast turkey with a citrus cranberry sauce - in the courtyard of the restored Copper & Lumber Store Restaurant and Hotel, also in Nelson's Dockyard.

After recovering from all the feasting, we finished the week sailing back to Green Island to return to the simple pleasures of swimming, snorkelling and relaxing at anchor.

Well that's it for now. Thanks to Matt, John, and Dee for letting me use some of their great photos! In my next newsletter, I'll tell you about our voyage from Antigua to the remote island of Barbuda, and passage to the French and Dutch island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten.

Fair winds,

Sheryl and Paul Shard
SV Distant Shores
Green Island, Antigua

New DVD – Distant Shores Season V: The Med to the Caribbean and Bahamas
Just a reminder that we have just released our latest DVD “Distant Shores Season 5 – the Med to the Caribbean and Bahamas”. This new DVD is a 3-disk set featuring our adventures aboard our new Southerly 42 sailboat and last year's voyage from England to the Caribbean and Bahamas. Lots of beautiful tropical destinations to warm up this winter! To order this and any of our DVDs visit our online store on our website. If you want to have your order shipped to an address different from your credit card billing address just send us an e-mail through Contact Us.

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