One of our seasoned crew members was turning 40, so naturally, we planned another epic sailing vacation adventure to celebrate. Where to this time? We wanted to try something new after plenty of recent sailing in the Virgin Islands and Bahamas.
An Antigua bareboat charter popped up on our radar, and after a bit of research, we were sold. It's 365 beaches, British naval history, and an offshore blue water sail to unspoiled Barbuda beckoned.
Read on for account of our week-long trip in May 2023 with a crew of 9 on a Lagoon 50 (and later a Bali 5.4). It's a long post, but with many pictures to give you an idea of what life was like aboard with the Yacht Warriors. Enjoy!
Day 1: Arrival to Jolly Harbour and provisioning
Getting to the southern part of the leeward islands always means an early start. For most of us, that was the 5:45am departure from Houston to Miami with American. What to do with our several hours layover? I know! Time to get the vacation started with some eye opener beverages at the club. Feeling good, we landed in Antigua just in time for rush hour through St. John. While only about 15 miles, it took us nearly an hour to make the trip to the yacht charter base at Jolly Harbour. We were met by the base manager who helped us get situated for our sleep aboard on our 6-cabin, Lagoon 50. Scared off by the charter company's provisioning list pricing, we elected to provision ourselves after a quick dinner at La Cantina. Epicurean, one of the best supermarkets on the island, is located a quick walk from the marina. It had most of what we needed and they even had carts to walk it back to the catamaran.
Day 2: Perfect seclusion at the outer islands of the North Sound
Our catamaran was in good shape...but not great. Having identified several issues the day prior, we spent most of the morning troubleshooting them. The base crew was great and very helpful, but it's always frustrating when these issues are left to the charter crew to triage upon arrival.
These problems were the usual suspects, but not insignificant: refrigerators that wouldn't cool, select cabins without AC, and water maker fits and starts.
At long last, we hit the fuel dock for a top off at around 11:00, and we were on our way out the marked Jolly Harbour channel. First stop? How about a long cruise along the northern coast to the north sound area and Great Bird Island? Perfect. The base recommended nearby Deep Bay and Fort Barrington. But that looked too close and we weren't ready to drop the hook yet.
So if you read my Antigua bareboat charter sailing plan, Great Bird Island might seem like an odd first night's destination. And, you would be correct. But, there's some logic there, I promise.
We needed to be in English Harbour on Sunday for a surprise Mother's Day brunch and evening barbeque party at the Shirley Heights Lookout. As a result, we had some time to kill before we made our way counterclockwise around Antigua's southern coast.
With light easterly winds, we elected to motor our way through Boon Channel as we got our sea legs. We waved at the celebrities at Jumby Bay before donning polarized glasses for some careful navigation of the north sound area.
There are plenty of coral heads to dodge in this area as you make your way east. However, they are easily seen with good light, and Doyle's Cruising Guide does a great job outlining the various approaches.
In search of some elbow room, we left the several yachts already at anchor in the lee of Great Bird Island and proceeded a bit farther south to Redhead and Rabbit Islands. No problems setting the anchor here. What a beautiful spot! We spent the late afternoon swimming, snorkeling, and enjoying the raw beauty of this wild area. If you have time, I'd also recommend a trip out to Hell's Gate, a unique rock structure. But, be careful! There are plenty of coral heads that come right up to the surface. We had to double back a few times, so take it slow. Dinner was filets we brought with us from Costco, mac 'n cheese, and sauteed lemon and herb broccoli. Oh and of course a cocktail or two with the sunset. It doesn't get any better than that!
Unfortunately, I didn't get any drone shots of this area due to the proximity to the airport.
Day 3: Fishing, Carlisle Bay, and some drama
It's Saturday! And, we need to be somewhere close to English Harbour for Mother's Day Brunch. Onwards to scenic Carlisle Bay on the southern coast! It's a long(ish) day on the water, back around the way we came.
After a hearty breakfast, we are on our way and eager to try our fishing spread of 3 rods and 2 handlines.
Despite our high spirits, our confidence in landing trophy fish in Antigua was pretty low. Sargassum makes it pretty difficult to troll lines behind the boat. But that wasn't going to stop us from trying.
With 10 knots from the east, the west coast of Antigua actually affords your best chance of landing fish since it is free of much of the sargassum. Sure enough, we were on the board with a small barracuda.
The rest of the cruise was beautiful as we passed nearby the lush green hills of Antigua's west coast. As we rounded the corner, we finally landed a fish worth eating - a cero mackerel. We recently caught one of these on our USVI trip and it made excellent sashimi, one of the best! We shared Carlisle Bay with several other catamarans, but there is plenty of room to spread out. What a gorgeous bay. Again, we spent the afternoon swimming with some cold beverages. And here's where it gets interesting, and I'll go through this rather quickly. I think what we learned from the experience deserves a separate post of its own (coming soon).
While most of the crew was in the water, Britney smelled smoke in the salon and alerted me and another crew member (who happens to be on a refinery emergency response team). He poked his head into the locker and requested a fire extinguisher. Yup - we had an electrical fire on one of the AC relays.
After I shut off all the breakers and he had used another fire extinguisher, it went out.
Needless to say, we were very fortunate with the circumstances that let us identify and put out the fire.
We were not going to stay aboard this boat any longer. With Mother's Day looming and our plans in shambles, us guys were in a pickle!
What could save this unfortunate situation from disaster? I know! How about a stay at the yacht-friendly 4-star Carlisle Bay Resort. With fingers crossed, I gave them a ring and asked if they had 4 rooms for 2 nights. Then I held my breath.
Boom. Carlisle Bay delivered big time. I can't say enough how helpful and accommodating they were. Essentials were packed (including the cero mackerel) and we dinghied ashore, leaving the ill-fated Lagoon 50 at anchor in front of the resort.
They were even able to turn our fish into amazing sashimi. Much better than I could have done!
Day 4: A Mother's Day to remember
While I would have much rather been aboard an operable catamaran, the rooms at Carlisle Bay were a close second. We spent the morning brunching and the moms swimming while we worked out plans with the charter company. After some back and forth they decided to deliver a Bali 5.4 from St. Martin. It was the only catamaran nearby that could accommodate our crew of 9 (I believe the Lagoon 50 we were on was the biggest in their fleet). It would arrive the next morning where they would clear customs and then raft up to us at Carlisle Bay for the transfer.
With plans set, we relaxed and enjoyed the amenities at the resort. We had no intention of cancelling our Shirley Heights visit, so we arranged a roundtrip van with the resort. Some folks had warned me the lookout was rather touristy, but it became one of the highlights of the trip.
The views are spectacular - you just can't beat the setting. The music puts you in the right mood. Drinks are cheap. And lastly, the ladies had a blast clearing out the dancefloor when a DJ opened up later in the evening.
Day 5: Resuming our Antigua bareboat charter on the Bali 5.4
Some people strongly dislike Balis, but the Bali 5.4 makes a great party barge - it's perfect for a 40th birthday party. This was our second time aboard one. I reviewed it here, and you can also read my full account of our Exumas trip here.
So, this was a big upgrade for us from the Lagoon 50. The 5.4 has more amenities and a better flybridge area complete with a refrigerator.
We thought about heading to Green Island, but after a delay getting through customs we planned to head for English Harbour and Falmouth which we had missed due to the fire fiasco.
Around noon, the Bali 5.4 arrived, we completed the transfer, and we were on our way for an hour's motor east. The Freeman Bay anchorage is tight and can experience shifty backwinding, but we found enough room and winds were forecasted to be light. There weren't many yachts to gawk at moored stern to at Nelson's Dockyard, but we enjoyed the view just the same.
We lacked the energy for a trip ashore to explore, so we settled for a dinghy ride to the Covent Garden market for some supplies.
Day 6: Sailing offshore to remote Barbuda
Time for a change of scenery. With 10-15 knots of east winds this was an ideal forecast to cross north to remote Barbuda.
OK it's only about 30 miles, so it's not that remote. But, it feels that way when you are there.
We came around the eastern point of Antigua, raised the main, and pointed for a waypoint that would put us west of the Codrington Shoals.
A broad reach wasn't the Bali 5.4s favorite point of sail, and we struggled to get the twist right on the jib due to a broken self tacking car. So we plodded along at about 6 knots before motoring in the last 10 miles. I wanted to make sure we had enough light to safely make the anchorage.
Fishing you might ask? Yes, we tried but the sargassum beat us again this time.
For our first night in Barbuda, we chose Coral Group Bay, as outlined in Doyle's guide. It lies inside a protected reef area and requires eyesight navigation. Using the provided GPS coordinates as a guide, we had no trouble making our way inside with good light.
It was a long day on the water, so we enjoyed the afternoon with the usual activities - cold Caribs and some floating. Uncle Roddy's is a quick dinghy ride away and gets great reviews, but we elected to just chill after many meals recent meals ashore.
As is tradition, we always play Master and Commander on the big screen. Alone in the Coral Group Bay anchorage, this seemed like the perfect setting to enjoy it.
Day 7: The endless white sand beaches of Barbuda
I always like to work in at least one chill day where we don't move very far...this was that day.
We picked a new anchorage nearby at Cocoa Bay and contemplated the days activities.
We'd heard good things about the Codrington Lagoon tour of the frigate bird sanctuary, but we had more important things to do, like Yacht Olympics!
Breaking into teams of three, we competed in a swim meet, flip cup, and finally, floating beer pong. That last one was extremely difficult with the wind and swell!
This was a great idea planned by one of our crew members. 5 stars. Highly recommend for your next yacht charter trip. After lunch we headed ashore to walk the beautiful Princess Diana Beach over to Shack-A-Kai, a rustic no-frills beach bar where we spent the afternoon. It reminded me a lot of Anegada, in fact, the whole Barbuda experience did. So if you're an Anegada fan like myself, you might want to put Barbuda on your bucket list. Enoch will usually offer fresh grilled lobster dinners, but unfortunately they were out of season during our visit. Next time!
We enjoyed one of the best sunsets of the trip at Cocoa Point.
Day 8: 80s night at Dickenson Bay
This was our last big opportunity for fishing, but alas, just a single barracuda on our crossing back to Antigua. I even caught a couple ballyhoo with a sabiki rig earlier in the trip. I thought for sure that would have been the difference maker. The sailing, however, was MUCH better - this time on a beam reach. We cruised along averaging a brisk 9 knots on the beefy cat. On a last minute decision we dropped the hook at Dickenson Bay for our final night, instead of Deep Bay. We'd heard there was a floating tiki bar that we had to check out.
Plus, we brought 80s outfits, and it would be more fun at bustling Dickenson Bay where the Sandals is located along with several other restaurants. The tiki bar was fun, but the rum punches disappointed. Back to the party barge for some proper cocktails while we made another delicious home-cooked meal. This time: spaghetti and Costco meatballs.
For a final sendoff, we busted out the led lights and enjoyed some dancing on the XL-sized Bali flybridge dancefloor.
Day 9: Back to reality
Rubbing our bleary eyes, we got a 7:00am departure for the hours long motor back to Jolly Harbour for check out procedures. This includes making enough time for a fuel dock top off.
Of course, there were two boats ahead of us, so we floated for nearly 30 minutes before taking our turn.
The rest of the process went smoothly, and after some real showers, we were on our way back to the airport.
That's it! Hope you enjoyed our Antigua bareboat charter trip report.
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