Monday, January 9, 2012

Antigua: Historic English Harbor, Falmouth Harbor & St. John's

Antigua  January 4, 2012   
Coming into English Harbor
Crossing the Guadeloupe Channel in the Atlantic Ocean to Antigua was a delight on this sunny beautiful day after so much rain off and on for the past week.  Five hours later, bobbing up and down in easy 6 foot rolling seas, we arrived in English Harbor, which according to the guide book, was ‘the’ place to be and prettier than it’s neighbor, Falmouth Harbor. 
English Harbor with two small anchorages above the main harbor & Falmouth Harbor at north end of  photo
English Harbor Marina - Dockyard
Slowly making our way into the harbor, which has three separate anchoring areas, we found no room for Finally Fun anywhere.  A dingy from the marina came out to assist, telling us that we’d be better off in Falmouth Harbor, just around the corner.  
Ft. Berkely guarding entrance to English Harbor

Cruising slowly back out of this quaint and historic harbor that was first developed in 1742 by the Brits, we oogled the old fort and the old dockyard, relishing the time we would spend exploring all this.

Making our way into Falmouth Harbor, just around ‘the corner’ we found this anchorage fairly crowded also.  Remember it is ‘The Season’.  

The place is loaded with mega yachts, both power and sail.  Bill Gates' yacht is here and is certainly not the largest one!  Gates does, however, have a helicopter on his yacht, as do several others.  Must be nice....the crew spends all day, every day, washing those big boats!

What empty space is available is dominated by mooring balls.  

We finally gave up and in frustration grabbed the $20 US a night mooring.  These are the most expensive (aside from Mustique) that we’ve found in our travels in the Caribbean.   Hooking up quickly, we lowered the dingy & set off to find the dingy dock so we could walk 10 minutes back into English Harbor to clear customs and immigration before they closed.
Old gate into Nelson's Dockyard

Humm, seems expensive to check in here....$16 US + port charges of $3 per day $4 per person for entering the dockyard; $1 a day for garbage.  Nickel and dime you to death.  BUT we don’t have to pay at the gate for entering the dockyard each time, as the tourists on a bus or not on a boat do...
Ah, historic Nelsons Dockyard is a delight!  This natural harbor was a major player starting in about 1725, becoming England’s main naval base in the Caribbean.  It was fortified to fend off the pirates who wanted to steal the valuable sugar & other products being sent to Europe from these islands.  They also fought to fend off other countries who wanted to become the owner of the island, ie Ruler of the Land.

The round 'things' were used to careen boats on their sides, while in the water, to clean/repair the hull
The Harbor was (and still is) a natural hurricane hole and well laid out to be able to careen (lay on the side in order to clean and repair the hull)  the large ships.  With all this at hand, England could keep a large fleet of ships here, never having to go back to England for repairs - thus keeping a large fleet ready for anything.
Close up of the careening 'instrument'.  A fiddler sat on top while men pushed the poles round & round, twisting line tight to careen the ship onto its side at low tide so they could clean the hull & make repairs
We enjoyed wandering around this historic area that has been restored to much of its former glory.
The buildings and land are used today much like they were used hundreds of years ago, except that the boats worked on and docked here are modern yachts and not the sailing vessels of 300+ years ago.  

Now a hotel & restaurant with an inside courtyard

My favorite - the Courtyard inside which is now a hotel/restaurant

The old kitchen, now a working bakery.  These are cisterns.

Note the Rules!!!!  I think they were afraid of 'loose' women!

Model of HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson's battleship

Andy as Admiral Nelson

Signal Flags See what is spelled out in the message below

This is what the signal flags spelled out.  Thank God for modern communications!!!
Finally finding the trail, we hiked up to to Ft. Berkely Point overlooking the entrance to English Harbor, passing goats, lots of century plants and cactus.  Every island has a fort or forts.  (Remember all that history I've been talking about and all the fighting that went on for 200+ years!!)  One boater we met has a goal of visiting every single fort along her way.  Phew...
Wish I'd see goat on a menu.  What DO theydo with so many?

Peeking into English Harbor

Love the plant life

Caribbean Sea near English Harbor entrance

Ft. Berkley overlooking English Harbor

Powder House where ammunition was kept
Powder House entrance door

Ft. Berkley protecting English Harbor

British seal on every cannon on most islands

A hot hot killer walk in the sun....I thought the hike to the Dow Hill Interpretive Center was 15 minutes away from Falmouth Harbor.  NOT.

Five times that, up a long mountain road, we arrived, hot and sweaty, to find them nearly closing.  The staff felt sorry for us, ran the 15 minute movie about the history of the island AND then drove us in their car to the top (another hour hike, straight up), showing us the ruins of the officer’s quarters and the old cemetery along the way.  

View of the Atlantic side, up near Shirley Heights

Atlantic Side

At Dow Hill Interpretive Center


One of 4 graves remaining intact

From Shirley Heights - English Harbor & Falmouth Harbor in background

See Finally Fun in Falmouth Harbor??

Steel drums @ Shirley Heights

Enjoying the view
Arriving at the top, at Shirley Heights, we watched the steel drum band play for two hours while we took in the view, the sunset and a cold drink. 

(The bands are just Thursday & Sunday nights for you cruisers following this blog behind us!) 

Luck of all luck, we hitched a ride back with a family from the UK with a big van!
God, the shoes?  Why??

The next day I got so excited  (Andy says I'm easy to please).  Catching a local bus (#17) from Falmouth Harbor to St. John’s and then transferring to another local bus (Woods) at the bus station (we are getting GOOD at figuring out the transportation systems!), we finally arrived at The Epicurean Grocery Store at Woods, a shopping mall. 

Pirates everywhere

Wow!  Haven’t seen a store like that in months and months, with so many choices and many of the goods from the USA.   

The disappointment came, however, when I realized I could only purchase what we could CARRY.  Bags loaded, backs bent, we made our way back via two crowded buses to Finally Fun.   Huh -- folks wonder what we do to stay shopping took about 5 hours. 

St. John's
Old churchs abound
Someone is a cool dude
 Before changing buses, we wandered through Redcliffe Quay, the old section of St. John’s.  Disappointing, as it is truly just a mega ‘quaint' shopping area for the cruise ships that come in daily in the winter months.    

The typical vendor stalls are here, loaded with t-shirts, shell jewelry & junk called island art.
Love the colorful buildings - St. John's
Redcliffe Quay

Redcliffe Quay Historic Building

Andy didn’t say NO forcefully enough.  Suddenly he found himself being escorted upstairs to a shop that had every single size T Shirt, in every color known to man AND every iron on patch available. 

There was no getting out of buying a t-shirt....his objections were overcome!   He quickly picked out his size, selected his color & iron on patch and in 1 minute had a new t-shirt & a lighter wallet.  

Heritage Quay, just 10 steps to the north, is another modern shopping mall - ‘duty free’ for the cruise ships.  Ugh, HATE all this!  We did, however, price a new camera for $450 US.  Back on Finally Fun, we looked it up & found it on Amazon for $250!   Shopper beware!!!! 
The guide books describe anchoring in St. John’s Harbor.  Oddly, we saw not ONE cruiser boat of any kind here in the two days we visited!  We saw no dingy dock or anything to make it attractive to a boater and were happy with our decision to stay on the mooring in Falmouth Harbor and take the bus to St. John’s!  We learned that some boaters will clear Customs/Immigration here & cruise on to Falmouth & English Harbor, thereby avoiding the fees...hummm... 
The same cactus as on Turks & Caicos - Turks were named after this one

Mega yachts cruised past us day and night in Falmouth Harbor

I missed a photo op!  Sitting in Mongoose Bar to cool off and get a cold drink, a local ordered a drink To Go beside me.  I wasn’t paying much attention, until I noticed he rode off, drink in hand, on a donkey!! Ah, love the local color!

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