It’s hard to believe that it’s been 8 years, since Brenda and I first visited Antigua.
I recall being smitten with the island when Brenda and first visited in 2017, after having made my original landfall in the BVI. From the BVI to the next island to the south (east actually) St Martin, was a terrible slog, directly into the wind, for nearly 100 miles. I recall being told that the run south to St Martin from the BVI, directly east and into the trade winds, “was fine if you waited for a cold front”. Sure, as long as you have time to kill, which we didn’t, so slog we did. It was a terrible way to inaugurate Brenda to cruising the Caribbean.
I have always said that the BVI was a perfect place to spend a week long charter but for the cruising set, not great. It’s crowded and most of the popular spots loaded with moorings. And, for most of our cruising friends, avoiding the charter boats, as they really don’t know what they are doing, is our goal. Anyway, I loved visiting the BVI when we flew there and stayed in a hotel years ago but as part of the cruising community, not so much.
When we visited Antigua the first time, I had no idea at all what to expect as I actually had never met anyone that had sailed there. That first visit to the island was in February of 2017 and I wrote about the final leg from St Barths to Antigua, my first post about the island that would become our favorite place in the Caribbean.
From that visit on, I made it my mission to convince the Salty Dawg board to send the rally to Antigua. I’ll admit that my first attempts did not go well. “Nope, the rally will continue to go to the BVI.” More than once I was accused for being too aggressive about pushing Antigua.
But I persisted. And, as luck would have it, if I dare call it luck, two hurricanes thrashed the BVI less than a month from when the 2017 rally to the Caribbean was to begin. As the BVI had sustained so much damage, we had to do something so I took the opportunity to set up a fairly large number of arrival events in Antigua, more than we had ever been able to muster in the BVI, and did so within a few short weeks. If the truth was to be told, for the last few years that the rally went to the BVI it was becoming increasingly difficult to get supporters there to welcome the fleet.
The real problem with the rally and the BVI is that the businesses there are more focused on the big spending one week charter and not on the slower paced cruising community.
The simple fact is that in order to have a partnership work, both parties must have goals that are in sync. And, there was always a bit of a disconnect with that the Dawgs wanted verses what the businesses in the BVI were looking for. The Dawgs were the tortoise part of the Tortoise and the Hare, and the one week, “slam bam, thankyou mam” approach of the charter crowd, was what they were looking for. The fact is that while cruisers spend plenty each season, they do not spend as much in a single week as charter boats spend.
It took another year or so but eventually the rally gave up on the BVI and now heads to Antigua every year.
Fast forward to this fall and amazingly, of those supporters that hosted events for us in the first few years, all but one have continued to host events every year since then. And, the one that skipped a few years, has again expressed an interest in doing something with us in late December. She’s a small art gallery and the pandemic hit her hard.
The simple fact is that what the Dawgs want from Antigua and those on the island want from us, are in sync. Our early season arrival is key as having 80 boats descend on them weeks before anyone else shows up is important to many businesses on the island. And many, probably most, of us arrive with broken stuff on our boats that needs to be fixed.
Having skippers and crew arrive ready to party with boats that need repairs is a magical combination for Antigua. Their season is short and to have hundreds of visitors come to the island to spend money a few weeks early, make our presence of outsize importance to the economy.
My friend Tom, who arrived on another boat a week before our rally showed up sent me this photo of the dockyard. Nearly empty…
Less than two weeks later the Dockyard filled to capacity, and nearly all the boats were from our rally.
I have gotten to know a lot of people on the island and have developed some nice friendships. Last spring, before I headed north and back to the US, I met with my friend Zoe for a wide ranging interview about Salty Dawg and my views on Antigua.
Not surprisingly, Zoe, like so many in Antigua, has a lovely British accent.
It’s always nice to show up in Antigua and have so many say “hi Bob, welcome back”.
This year the very first welcome was by my friend Isabella, who runs a lovely little French restaurant in English Harbor. While I was waiting to be put on the dock that first morning in Antigua, I heard “Hi Bob” and saw Isabella waving wildly from the dock in front of her restaurant. A moment later she sent out a skiff with some still warm croissants. Here is a photo that she took of her skiff visiting Pandora.
So, here I am, home in CT on the last day of November, busy visiting family and enjoying the holidays. Lots to look forward to in the coming months. (I won’t talk about the terrible cold that Brenda and I have)
Oh yeah, it’s cold outside and I am wearing a sweater.
Next step, after a few weeks of whirlwind visits to family, back to Antigua in time to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks from the bow of Pandora.
For sure, Antigua still loves the Dawgs and the Dawgs love Antigua.