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Chartering in Antigua

How about sailing in the day and fine dining in the night while enjoying tropical weather, palm trees, blue waters and white beaches? Sign us up too. Here's a short guide to the best of Antigua.

Some basic facts first. High season runs from December to the end of April. The rest of the year is hurricane season, still hot and sunny with some great deals on yachts, but somewhat at the mercy of tropical depressions coming off the Atlantic trades. From the UK the regular carriers are BA, Virgin and XL. The US is served by Delta, AA, Continental and US Airways. But local airline Liat makes it easy to hop over to Antigua if you end up at any other Caribbean island. Sailing in Antigua suits all sailing skill levels with good protected waters inshore and more demanding passages out to nearby islands. But with plenty available inshore you don't need to leave Antigua to have a busy vacation. In fact even for non-sailors a skippered charter is arguably the most pleasant way to visit the island.

Antigua itself is a special yacht charter destination because of the range of sailing and moorings available. One of the island's features is the large amount of sheltered water. Since the trades create consistent easterlies (westerlies simply don't exist in the Caribbean) the island itself protects the waters all around to the west. Then an enormous reef and islet system a mile or two off the north of the island extends the protected waters much of the way along the north coast. And also, looking to the south, while the seas there are more exposed to Atlantic swell, there are two of the most protected anchorages in the Caribbean; English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour.

If the seas are calm you can visit Non-Such Bay, hidden in behind a reef on the south-east side, a few miles from English Harbour. Non-Such Bay is also a good place to start describing Antigua's other great strength, its restaurants. Harmony Hall is one of the most delightful restaurants in the Caribbean. It has views over Non-Such Bay and a quiet peaceful 'get-away-from-it-all' atmosphere. There's an old mill at Harmony Hall converted into a bar downstairs and a viewing platform upstairs so you can take your drinks and watch the dusk settle over the island before heading down for dinner. Below the restaurant there's a small anchorage and jetty so you can moor up close to the restaurant. Call in on the VHF to reserve a table. Right now Harmony Hall is only open Fridays and Saturdays but this is due to change, call ahead when you arrive and plan it into your itinerary.

Around to the south are English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour, Antigua's party central. There are stacks of recommended restaurants here. At Falmouth Harbour KC's place, owned by KC himself, is one of the friendliest character's you'll meet with masses of great stories who serves up quick bite Mexican foods. Across the road is one of the islands most popular restaurants 'Trappas', owned by Simon and Caroline, with excellent fixed price menus and a fun atmosphere which, if you can book ahead to get a table, is a 'must-do'. If you can't get in there don't worry there are lots of places to eat and you can wander around quite happily deciding which one will suit you best.

A couple of minutes down the road from Falmouth Harbour is the historic English Harbour and Nelson's Dockyard. Also a 'must-do'. The Galleon Bar serves up easy-bites and beers and the old colonial-style 'Admirals Inn' will beg you for a gin and tonic. It's all too easy to settle in for the night there. Grab a taxi at the entrance to the dockyard to take you up to Shirley Heights for a sundowner and dinner with its unforgettable views over the island. The big night here is Sunday night with a steel band and BBQ, but that can be quite touristy. Call before-hand and plan it into your itinerary since they often have themed nights on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

About the Author

This article was written by Ben Eliott of Eliott Sailing.