Sarah Hébert explores the small island of Barbuda in the eastern Caribbean, part of the sovereign Commonwealth nation of Antigua and Barbuda. She finds a paradise resurrected after hurricane Irma and perfect conditions for foiling. Read on as Sarah tells us more.
Words Sarah Hébert // Photos Sarah Hébert & Aurelien Le Métayer
We’ve been travelling for a year and a half on our sailboat Maloya, an Océanis 411, searching for ideal spots to enjoy our favourite watersports. Sailing through the West Indies, we enjoyed the beautiful lagoons of the Grenadines, but we had not seen anything like Barbuda before and decided to anchor in this unknown paradise to explore it a bit more.
Barbuda has remained relatively untouched due to its tragic history. After the abolition of slavery, land was distributed to his inhabitants, including slaves, thus making them all owners of the land. Today all 1200 inhabitants of Barbuda must agree to a piece of land being sold and is why there is very little tourist development on the island. People here mainly live on seafood, mostly lobster and almost every day we bought some from fishermen for only €4per lobster.
After a quick morning passage from English Harbour, 25 miles windward, we drop anchor at Cocoa Point. The beach here was previously reserved for hotel guests only, but today nobody forbids us access. Irma destroyed the hotel and only its foundations are left visible. Further up the beach, which is about ten kilometres long, another small complex remains abandoned. Horses and donkeys roam freely and the wind blows offshore across clear flat water. It’s an ideal playground for windsurfing and we cut through the turquoise blue water with only the whistling of our foils to break the silence.
Shan and Shannon, a young American couple who also started sailing around the world, tell us that they are returning to Low Bay and invite us to join them. After several days at anchor at Cocoa Point, we head northwest, pushed by a gentle 15 knot breeze. We pass the mythical point of Palmetto, where a hollow wave unfolds on big swell days. We walk along the strip of sand that protects the majestic lagoon bordering the town of Codrington. We anchor in front of a hotel ravaged by the swell of Irma. We spend our lives playing with the elements, but the ruins remind us of the respect we must have for the power of nature. Here we stay for more than 10 days, often alone at the anchorage. The wind blows almost every day allowing us to explore the turquoise waters from the top of our foil. We cherish these spots, where we can leave the boat to have fun on the water, whether it be by paddle or sail and Barbuda ranks as one of the most beautiful places we have visited.
“ We cut through the turquoise blue water with only the whistling of our foils to break the silence.”
Between two sessions, we visit the ‘Frigate bird’ sanctuary in the Codrington Lagoon, the largest in the Caribbean. Georges Jeffrey, the best-known guide on the island, also a lobster fisherman, reveals the secrets of his island and its lagoon at the helm of his long flat boat. Here in the warm waters of the lagoon, lobsters and many other fish come to breed. He explains that after Irma, the government of Antigua wanted to relocate the population of the island, not only to help the population recover from the cyclone, but also to develop a mega yacht project in the lagoon. Fortunately, almost all inhabitants of the island have returned to their territory and have contributed to the sustainability of this magnificent ecosystem. Georges stops quickly in front of the mangrove to show us the effects of the category 5 hurricane. There in the middle of the plucked mangrove, a shipping container lies in a few feet of water. It would have flown 2 kilometres in the air to reach here!
We have trouble imagining the 1500 inhabitants (before Irma) of the island all crammed into the fishery building, (the only building solid enough to withstand the force), staring through openings and listening to the sound of Irma’s fury.
“In the warm waters of the lagoon, lobsters and many other fish come to breed.”
In the sky, thousands of black birds fly in big circles as we arrive in the ‘frigate bird’ sanctuary. The males immediately attract the eye with their red throats that swell like a balloon. Further down the branches of the mangrove are young frigates with white down, well protected under the feathers of their mother. The show is magical. These birds feed mainly on flying fish, hunting for them several hundred kilometres from the nest if necessary. We head back to the village to do some shopping at the small supermarket and eat a local dish of fish with Creole sauce, rice with red beans and plantains.
We have already set sail to new destinations, but we could have stayed much longer in Barbuda. There are still so many beaches and turquoise spaces to explore. Barbuda is not one of the classic Caribbean yacht destinations, certainly due to its geographical position as the most windward of the West Indian arc. It also has no nautical infrastructures and its airstrip only accepts a few small planes or helicopters, but that that is why we appreciated our stay there even more, soaking up the imagined feelings of being at the end of the world.
Barbuda size – 160 km2.
Capital – Codrington.
Visas – best to do visa formalities in Antigua.
Location – 25 miles from Antigua and 60 miles from St Barts.
Get there – Air and sea links from Antigua.
Official website – www.antigua-barbuda.com
Sailboat rental – facilities at Guadeloupe, St Martin and Antigua.
Currency – local currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (XCD) but the US Dollar (USD) is accepted over the counter.
Infrastructure – small supermarket, cash machine, local restaurant and gas station.
Rules – in marine and terrestrial reserves, all hunting is prohibited to non-residents.