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Monday 30th January 2012

“How would you like to visit us in Antigua and go sailing in the Caribbean?”, our friends asked us this winter. It took all of three nanoseconds for us to reply: “You bet!”

So, in the middle of January, we set off from cold and dreary Manchester, England to visit Kathy and Hans Lammers in Antigua. We could not have wished for a warmer welcome nor a better introduction to the joys of sailing in the clear blue waters of the sea here.

We spent a wonderful first full day acclimatizing by touring English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard, before a drive through the rain forest and lunch by the sea. Bliss. Next day we boarded Sunny Side  (our home for the next week) which Hans sailed gently down the coast from Falmouth to Jolly Harbour where Kathy joined us. A peaceful introduction for two novices to what could have been quite a fierce start to our sailing experience – the six and a half hour crossing to Guadeloupe next day. We were lucky it was not too rough. We made good time and, when directed, pulled on this or pointed the boat in approximately the right direction!

In the Botanic Gardens in Deshaies, Guadeloupe.

Arriving in Deshaies was a revelation. Completely different culture, language, people and even currency. We took a taxi up to the Botanic Gardens full of beautiful flora and fauna, managed to stock up on some good French wine and cheese and sampled some delightful restaurants overlooking the harbour. Next stop was Les Saintes. After quite a choppy run (thank heaven for the anti-sea sickness pills Kathy supplied), Hans found us a quiet mooring in a relatively high swell in the harbour.  We went ashore and climbed up to a ruined fort “peopled” by a flock of goats with spectacular views over the islands and the sea. Delightful dinner on board for a change with Hans’ miner’s lamp around his head, barbecuing Kathy’s delicious marinated chicken on the aft deck.

Next day we sailed to Dominica. Once again we were fascinated by the differences. Anchoring in Prince Rupert Bay offered us wonderful views of Portsmouth. Not as sophisticated (or full of tourist shops) as Les Saintes, but with its own special charm. Later Albert – one of the boatmen who greet incoming boats to offer their shore services – paddled us up the Indian River offering knowledgeable insights to the local wildlife including iguanas, colourful birds, land crabs and the lush vegetation. Next morning we hired a car for an epic drive round the island visiting waterfalls, the Emerald pool and rainforest between dodging potholes and land slips. Sadly we  had to drop Kathy off at the airport as she had important work to return to in Antigua, but not before lunch in an enchanting restaurant over looking Pagua Bay.

A dug-out canoe being crafted in the Carib Territory in Dominica.

Later the three remaining musketeers spotted an old man making a traditional Carib  canoe by the roadside from a hollowed out tree trunk filled with heavy stones. He had lit a fire which was heating the wood on which he poured water so on the weight of the stones would push out the sides and create the right shape . He assured us that one of his boats, the famous Gligli, had sailed successfully to Venezuela – though it’d be some weeks before this one was going anywhere! We arrived near Salisbury just too late to see the Macoucherie  rum distillery, at work still using a water wheel to crush the sugar cane, to sample the wares. Probably just as well.

The windward side of beautiful Dominica.

Next day Hans decided we should make straight for Pigeon Island to snorkel in the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve. Quite a long day’s sailing but we made it in good time to anchor and have dinner on board ready for an early start. The snorkeling offered fantastic views of an extraordinary other world full of the most bizarrely shaped and coloured fish and coral. Even for a non-swimmer like Nich, it was an absolute must!

After lunch we pressed on back to Deshaies where we’d booked a car to do some sightseeing in the mountains around the volcano. The park authorities have created a long trail of stones and wooden steps and bridges through the luxuriant tropical forest ending in a breath-taking view of the spectacular waterfalls. Delicious lunch at a little roadside café before heading back to the boat. Unbelievable traffic on the way home. Guess it must’ve been Friday night.

We were all a bit nervous about the final day as the wind was  up and the seas pretty rough. But the forecast was for worsening weather so Hans decided we’d better make a run for it. Poor man, single-handed he had to sail through difficult conditions for most of the day.  We arrived back in Falmouth by mid afternoon just as the 100ft+ yachts were preparing for their last race on the second day of the Superyacht Challenge Antigua.  We felt pretty proud of ourselves but even more of our captain and we have been well and truly bitten by the Caribbean sailing bug.

Article and Photos by Nich and Patricia Cole.

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