Sunday 9 February 2020


In the distance, Atlantic rollers rise up from the deep and thunder against the barrier reef, where their energy is snuffed out against the delicate coral. Inside the reef the turquoise water laps gently against the hull with hardly a ripple on the surface. Turtles graze on the sea grass, holding their breath for several hours before coming to the surface for a gulp of air.  It feels as if we are on the edge of the world, with nothing but the reef between us and the open ocean. In fact we are in Nonsuch Bay, on the East coast of Antigua, a huge shallow coastal lagoon, two miles wide and perfect for kite surfing.

A company called 40 Knots operates a kite surfing school from a small sandy beach on Green Island and i decide to have a lesson to try and catch up with Jamie and Lucie who are joining us in March in the Grenadines.  However the wind is light and even with a 19 metre kite the best i can manage is to fly the kite from a dinghy and practice being dragged through the water.  The calm weather attracts a number of large yachts to the lagoon, together with their exotic toys and we spend a few days snorkelling on the barrier reef, eating on board and watching the majestic sunsets.

Antigua has become a honey pot for superyachts during the northern hemisphere winter, attracted by the abundance of natural harbours and its position in the centre of the Eastern Caribbean. This in turn has attracted the best tradesmen to service these goliaths and having spent a few relaxing days in the lagoon at Nonsuch we are here in English Harbour to take advantage of their skills to finally fix our sagging forestay.   Names like Nelsons Dockyard, Falmouth Harbour and Clarence House allude to the naval history of the island and Antigua has also become the finish line for a number of rallies, including the Talisker Atlantic Challenge, a race across the Atlantic, just like the ARC, except that these crews are rowing!

The start is at La Gomera in the Canary Islands and the finish line, 3,000 miles later in English Harbour, is just yards from where we are anchored.  We are awoken just before dawn by the sound of commotion, unusual at this time of day.  There are several classes of rowers: Fours, Trios, Pairs, but today the first of the Solo class is coming in and as it passes between the red and green channel markers, cheers and clapping break out across the anchorage, and as this awakes the slumbering yachts, more and more people appear on deck to applaud this amazing feat.  The small craft, emblazoned with a union jack and the logos of its sponsors, slowly edges across the line where it is met by two powerboats. After a brief moment of silence, the lone rower is handed two flares and in the muted light of dawn he stands, bare-chested, holds the red torches high in the air, and emits a roar of emotion that echoes across the anchorage, the media boats circle at high speed adding to the drama of the occasion.

Caroline and Sara walk the steep path up to Shirley Heights, a restored gun battery 500 feet above the anchorage and named after Sir Thomas Shirley who strengthened Antiguas defences in 1781. From the top, the views of our anchorage in Freemans Bay with Nelsons Dockyard beyond and Falmouth Harbour in the distance are quite stunning and appear on countless postcards as the iconic images of Antigua.

You may recall that on our Atlantic crossing we had some issues relating to the genoa forestay, so I have arranged for Ashley Rhodes, the founder of A&A Rigging, a charming Antiguan rigger, to make some modifications.  We remove the genoa forestay and lay it on the dock; the bob stays that support the bowsprit are then also removed so that they can be shortened, allowing us to alter the angle of the sprit with the effect of tensioning the stay. We also replace the toggle with a larger one and beef up the clevis pin as the old one was too short and caused the failure mid-Atlantic by putting too much lateral pressure on the split pin. While we have the bowsprit off the boat I arrange for it to be repainted and I make some small modifications to the pole fitting to allow us to connect a furler for our new gennaker which will be made over the summer and fitted when we return in November.  Ashley also makes us up a new genoa halyard with a dyneema cover at the tip to prevent chafe where it turns on the sheave as it enters the mast.  

What I have learnt in our brief experience with catamarans is that for downwind sailing they like to be pulled, rather than pushed. By this I mean that as soon as we are off the wind, it is much easier to drop the big mainsail and use a combination of headsails, depending on the wind speed.  On a monohull this isn’t practical, because without a mainsail the boat just rolls around in big seas; however on a catamaran the wide stable platform allows us to use just our furling headsails which are much easier to reef if the wind picks up. The result of the work on the rig should give us three headsails for varying conditions: a bullet proof self-tacking staysail for heavy airs and sailing upwind, a big genoa for reaching and sailing downwind, and the new gennaker for downwind sailing in lighter airs.

This evening we are on the outer dock of Falmouth Harbour Marina, having supper on board. Opposite is the Antigua Yacht Club with its famous Cloggies restaurant where we had dinner last night, and the sound of laughter carries clearly across the still water. All around us are huge superyachts, each requiring numerous crewmembers who live on these luxurious machines, creating a thriving community in the marina.  Much as we have enjoyed our stay here we are looking forward to leaving the marina and heading north to St Barts, where we are meeting Andrew and J who are joining us for a week’s holiday.  The wind has picked up and during the day it is now blowing its habitual 20 knots from the East, so with a Northwest course to St Barts we will have a chance to test our modifications to the rig.



  1. So, this gennaker you speak of: did we go for an asym, or a whatever the other thing was...? Or neither.

  2. Very good question. These so-called coded sails have become a big topic and there are endless options so we are in the process of deciding exactly how to cut the gennaker. I think it will be just like a very big genoa, made of a lighter fabric, on a continuous line furler. The torsion stay will be made of dyneema and sewn into the luff tape so that it can be removed when not in use. By having a fixed luff it will easier to furl although not quite as good as an Asym for going dead downwind. Clear as mud? This might warrant a pint of something at the rat?