After spending seven wonderful days exploring Antigua’s eastern and southern harbours and beaches, last Thursday we decided it was time to move further north. Our plan was to spend Christmas and New Years in St. Martin. This decision, however, meant that we would be moving along alone. Our friends on Rode Trip were still waiting for their engine water pump to be installed so they wouldn’t be moving north until after Christmas at least. Other friends on Bitty Rose and Hop Drop would also be moving towards St. Martin before New Years but would be setting out from Antigua a few days after us. Kemana, Caretta and That’s It were already ahead of us in either St. Martin or Puerto Rico.
Last Wednesday we cleared out of Antigua and then moved Wild Horses from its spot on a harbour mooring ball to the anchorage just outside Jolly Harbour’s entrance. This would be a perfect place to leave at first light to make the 32 nautical mile trip to Barbuda, Antigua’s sister island. Together, they form the country of “Antigua and Barbuda”. We were excited to get to see this small and very flat island known for clear, beautiful water and is home to a large colony of frigate birds.
The next morning, we were underway. Well, almost. We had a slight delay when our anchor windlass decided to not work, preventing us from lifting our 88lb Rocna anchor. Mike quickly found a loose wiring connection, fixed it and we were back in business. Surely this was our one glitch for the day.
As it turns out, this was far from the truth.
The passage to Barbuda was a windless one, which meant motoring the whole way. Our first glimpse of Barbuda was surprising. It is flat as a pancake and pretty sparse! Such a contrast from mountainous and lush Antigua. We motored into the Cocoa Point anchorage slowly and carefully, avoiding the many reefs scattered about. It was an easy feat as the water was clear and blue.
Next on deck was to get Ocean to shore. We piled into the dinghy and started to head towards the shoreline. Hmmm, strong breakers at the nearby beach looked very ominous. We dinghied further south to where the shoreline was calm but there were “private property” signs there. Yeesh. We doubled back and started heading north again, towards the one and only beach bar. Surely people can land their dinghies here? Right? Well, it didn’t look good there either. There was a mooring ball slightly away from shore that we contemplated attaching the dinghy to but it would require a fairly sporty swim in for all three of us, especially with the crashing waves at shore. Finally, we thought we saw a calmer section along the shore line, just 10 metres away, and motored the dinghy towards it.
We were wrong about the calmness. Very wrong. It was a catastrophe. The dinghy swung violently sideways as it got caught up in a large breaking swell and then it flipped. I was underwater and scooped out behind the dinghy. Ocean had made a premature jump out of the dinghy before the flip (she is so smart) and when I found my way to the surface of the water, I could see her playing onshore with some of the debris from our capsized dinghy. Where was Mike? Trapped under the dinghy. I helped him get the dinghy off him and then we got it righted. We were shaken but still had to secure the dinghy from being pummeled in the breaking swells. Out of nowhere, a gentleman (who we later found out was the beach bar owner named Enoch) came along and, without asking, started to help us pull the dinghy onto the beach and then rushed to secure everything being swept into the ocean that had fallen out of our dinghy. He did this even though our large dog was running free around him. He did this even though he was working. He did this even though it was difficult. He even brought us a 2-gallon jug of his fresh water to wash down the salt and sand drenched engine. Wow.
We had a moment to catch our breath and assess our situation. The important part was all three of us were safe and with minimal injuries. We had all our gear, including our wallet and phones and nothing had been damaged. Um, scratch that. We had an engine that had been submerged in saltwater. We knew it wouldn’t start and although we had our oars, we knew that rowing the half mile to our boat in the swell was not doable. We needed a tow. The bartender assured us that someone would be coming to his beach bar before dark. But, for over an hour, no one came.
Finally, our heroes arrived. A small dinghy loaded down with six people approached the same shoreline where we capsized. Surely, they would suffer the same fate? Nope. They had the landing process nailed. Three young people in their 20s jumped out of the dinghy, swam to shore and awaited the dinghy they just left. They waited for a big swell to crash and then the race was on. As the dinghy approached the shore, the last three people jumped out and swam while the three on shore rushed out and secured the dinghy. All six then pulled the dinghy onshore.
Oh, that’s what we did wrong. 😉
There was no hesitation from the dinghy’s captain when we asked for a tow. “Yes! I will do it right now!” Mike had previously rowed our dinghy out to the beach bar’s mooring so the three of us needed to swim out to it, in the crashing waves. Mike and I had no issue with this but we worried about Ocean. She had her lifejacket on but could she negotiate the crashing waves and strong swell? Our heroes had an answer for that. They offered to put her in their dinghy so she wouldn’t have to swim. Great! Except Ocean did not like the idea of Mike and I swimming away from her while some strangers took her elsewhere in their dinghy. Out she jumped! But her attempts to swim to us failed as she struggled to negotiate the crashing waves. Once again, our heroes leapt into action. Two strong swimmers from the group grabbed the handle on her lifejacket and guided her through the waves and swell to us waiting in our dinghy. They then tread water while pushing her up and over the dinghy gunnels. Wow!!
After being towed to our boat, we gave the engine a fresh water rinsing, removed the spark plugs, oiled the cylinders (clearing it of any water) and got pounds of sand out of the housing. Still the engine would not start. We knew we had to get the engine properly serviced immediately or our almost new engine would be trash. We couldn’t remain in Barbuda, with its very scarce services and amenities. We had to go back to Antigua. Our friends on Rode Trip, still in Antigua, had secured us an engine mechanic who could take care of our engine as soon as we arrived back there. They also offered us the loan of their dinghy for use over Christmas. They are currently at a dock so the dinghy wasn’t being used. Amazing!
At the end of the day, we know we were lucky. Lucky to have suffered no injuries. Lucky to have great sailing buddies who never hesitate to assist however they can. Lucky to be in a world where complete strangers will go out of their way to help you without hesitation. A big thank you to Rode Trip, to Enoch (the bar owner at Barbuda) and to the crew on Inukshuk, our towing heroes.
Merry Christmas indeed!
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Victoria is a hiker, dog-lover, blog writer and planner extraordinaire. Oh, yeah and she is kind of fond of living on a boat.