January, 2001: Barbuda
 
On January 10th, we left English Harbour to go to Barbuda (pronounced "Barb-you-da") . We made the trip in two legs, stopping overnight at Green Island, on the eastern side of Antigua. From there, it was an easy close reach, with some motoring at the end as the wind died, and we were off Palaster Reef, which guards the south end of Barbuda. Some fishermen appeared around Cocoa Point, and we followed them through the reefs, until they pointed energetically toward the shore, where we found a beautiful anchorage between the Cocoa Club and some coral heads, just 150 feet off of the 5-mile long pink beach. We swam ashore and walked to the exclusive K Club, which is owned by a famous Italian designer (Klacci?) and is best known as Princess Di's hideaway. Back on the boat, we called "Garden of Eden" on the VHF and arranged to go see the Frigate birds ("de birds") the next morning.

That night, the ground swell came up and the sound of breaking surf, amplified through the open hatches into our bunk, had us rising every few hours; but all was fine, in fact quite spectacular in the almost full moonlight, and the surf really wasn't crashing 20 feet away, as it sounded.

Next morning, we dinghied into the beach. We surfed in on a 2-foot wave and Andi jumped, lost her footing and tumbled into the backwash. Rob jumped next, and though he managed to keep his feet he also soaked himself thoroughly as we pulled the dinghy up clear of the waves. There was a sand cliff, 18 inches or so high, and we pulled Nils up to it, figuring that this is as high as the water ever gets, and set the anchor into the sand.

We had arranged to meet a cab near the guarded gate to Cocoa Point Club, to drive us the 10 miles to Codrington, the only town on this island of 1,000 souls. The roads definitely need work. On the way, the cabbie pointed out abandoned farms, a sand shipping terminal (they supply sand to islands as far away as St. Thomas), a horse track ("races every other Sunday") and a coconut plantation. He noted that Barbuda has "one of everything": one school, one gas station, one race track, one cricket field. But, it has seven churches! In contrast to the other Leeward Islands, which are volcanic and have hills or even mountains, Barbuda is low-lying, like the Bahamas. It reminded us of Anegada, as compared to the other Virgin Islands. Where Anegada had wild cows, Barbuda features wild horses and donkeys. At the town dock, we met George, otherwise known as "Garden of Eden." He started up his 40-horse Evinrude, and we took off in his plain but well-built skiff -- we sat on throwable seat cushions on 2X8 plank thwarts while George stood and steered the outboard.

It's quite a distance -- about 5 miles -- across the shallow lagoon to the world's largest frigate bird sanctuary. Frigate birds are unusual in that, despite their diet of fish, they cannot swim. They fly on incredibly long, narrow wings (about 6' wingspan) out to sea, where they fish by skimming the water. Their favorite snack is, of course, flying fish. George explained that they dive at a school, causing the fish to jump out of the water. "Big mistake!" Even though the birds can't swim, they don't build nests on dry ground, but above the water on mangrove bushes. They roost so close together that they sometimes hit each other as they spread their long wings to take flight, or merely to balance themselves, because they have very short legs.

They're in mating season now, and the males sport large, bright red bladders on the front of their necks, which they inflate to attract females. When we were approaching the mangroves where they roost, these bladders appeared for all the world like bright red fishing buoys caught up in the branches. As we got closer, we could hear the clicking noise the males make as they snap their bills at each other, and to attract females. Listen closer, George told us, and you'll hear them drumming their bladders. It makes a low, almost humming bass line for the high clicks.

The birds seem totally fearless, and we easily approached nests to within a few feet, George wading and pulling the skiff along. We saw a few fluffy all-white chicks, in addition to the hundreds of white-throated females and, most spectacularly, the red-pouched males, sitting on branches or wheeling just above us. A fantastic sight.

When the taxi returned us to the beach, the Cocoa Beach security guard met us to tell us that our dinghy had washed off the shore, capsized, and had been rescued and re-beached by the folks from the catamaran sharing our anchorage. They'd put the oars by the gas tank, about 50 yards away. The engine was in the dinghy, not attached to the stern. There was no sign of the gas line, other than the broken-off end still attached to the tank. We gathered all the pieces and, somewhat stunned, started rowing back to Akka. The guys from the catamaran dinghied over and towed us back, explaining that they had found the dinghy upside-down, "out to sea" with the motor suspended a meter or so under water, tethered by its safety cord. In response to our profuse thanks, Giles, the captain said, "Not a problem; it was our pleasure and our duty. But you can buy us a drink." We invited them over for 5 o'clock sundowners.

It was about 1:30 when we lifted the outboard into Akka's cockpit, opened the top, and found it full of sand. We scooped, brushed, and blew the sand out with the pump for the inflatable dinghy. It's this very fine coral sand, so we spent a good deal of time just moving it around. Then we washed the motor down with fresh water and dismantled it, wiping, brushing, blowing and otherwise contriving to get all the sand out of the air intake, carburetor, bendix, etc. When we had the carburetor off, we removed every speck of sand we could find from the intake manifold, flushed the whole thing out with fresh water, and sprayed tons of W-D 40 into the entrance, meanwhile turning the engine over. By 4:30, we had the motor re-assembled, still with sand around the bottom of the engine compartment, but not, we hoped, in the essential working parts. Without gas, we couldn't test it, which is a shame as the gas has oil in it for lubrication; but we did give a pull on the starter rope and, amazingly, the engine almost caught! We had to wait until we returned to Antigua to find out whether the motor would ever run again.

The folks on the catamaran said they're working for NASA, doing oceanography. They're listening to fish. Seriously. Every night they deploy hydrophones and listen to grunts, grouper, and the like. The crew of "Le Prince du Vendee" are three: Giles, Beatrice, and Simon. Giles and Beatrice are French and Beatrice speaks very little English, while Simon is a young American delivery skipper who speaks very little French. Despite the language problem, the conversation over rum punch in Akka's cockpit that evening was lively and interesting.

Since we were then at the weekend and knew we couldn't do anything about the outboard, we spent another day at the beautiful Barbuda anchorage, then sailed back to Antigua on Sunday. Another glorious sail in 10-15 knot winds and beautiful sunshine. We had plotted two courses -- one for the east side of Antigua, one for the west -- depending on the wind direction. We couldn't make the east side without beating, so headed for the west and anchored for the night in beautiful Five Islands Bay, near a shore that had a herd of cows grazing near the beach. In the morning, we were awakened by cows, in addition to the ubiquitous roosters. And a donkey.

We motored the 15 miles to Falmouth Harbour on Monday morning, in no wind but fabulous visibility. This gave us an opportunity to really study Montserrat and its Soufriere volcano. We could actually see ash flows coming down the mountainside, steaming as they tumbled down the slopes. Quite an amazing sight! We hope the digital photos do justice to it.

We got to Falmouth Harbour and took the outboard to one of the shops here. Their outboard guy expressed confidence that it would run again, given what we had done already to salvage it, and said he had a spare handle for it, as the handle (which has the throttle control on it) had broken off in the dunking. He said it would be ready by the following (Tuesday) evening. We were delighted. Tuesday afternoon, when we called on the VHF, we were told it would be ready "tomorrow morning." When questioned, that meant more like 11:30 than 9:00. At 1 p.m Wednesday, when we arrived after a row in and a trip into St. Johns, they said the guy was running late, and it would be 2:00 p.m. We waited from 2 until 2:55, and when he arrived, he explained that the motor actually RAN, but he could not replace the control stick -- the one he had didn't fit. Evinrude, the mfr., has gone bankrupt, been acquired, then gone bankrupt again, so no spare parts or used parts are available. Guess it's time for a new outboard.

Well, there could be worse places to have this happen. Here we are in mega-yacht territory. We know that we think of Akka as good-sized, and so do most of you. However, here in Falmouth, she's quite small. Rob ran into a skipper of one of the yachts who said "I'm on one of the small ones." When Rob asked the size, the guy said, "She's just 67' long." "Hyperion" is here; she was once the largest sailing sloop in the world, at some 143'. "Rebecca" arrived yesterday; we think she measures 125'. The "Harvey Gamage" just left, and the gorgeous "Savannah" is here, getting her brightwork redone. There's also a motor yacht named "Senses" out of St. John, USVI that has a helicopter, 2 large rigid inflatables, a cabin cruiser-type launch, a classic wooden sailboat and a sport boat. All of the boats are named "T/T Senses." Andi thinks they should be named "Touch" "Feel" "Smell" etc. All of these are deployed from the stern of Senses; on her foredeck is a huge tangle of mountain bikes. Amazing. This weekend, there will be an around Antigua race, so the 2 "W" class 76' Herreschoff designed (but modern keeled) "White Wings" and "Wild Horses" have shown up to match race each other. Both are owned by the same guy, and they are too stripped down for racing to live aboard comfortably, so when he comes to race them, he stays ashore. It's fun -- and a bit awesome -- to be a part of this.