This section will take you on a tour around the island starting with English Harbour and finishing up with one of the island's best 'hurricane holes', Indian Creek. In addition to what is listed here there are numerous beaches and coves which make ideal and often quiet anchorages. Studying a detailed chart is advised before entering some of these anchorages.
English Harbour is the home of Nelson’s Dockyard as well as Galleon Beach in Freeman’s Bay. The holding in Freeman’s Bay is good but can be a bit uncomfortable when the wind shifts to the south. Tuck in behind the reef if there is space. There is good snorkelling off the reef and several nearby small beaches provide good barbecue sites. Be careful not to anchor in the fairway which is marked with channel buoys although, in high winds, these have a habit of breaking free. Also worth a visit is Fort Berkeley, at the entrance to English Harbour, and the numerous trails through the National Park many of which enjoy superb views. The trails are maintained by the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua & Barbuda and well walked by tourists.
Falmouth Harbour is Antigua’s largest yachting harbour but also contains one of Antigua’s most popular beaches, Pigeon Beach, a favourite with locals and yacht crews alike. Good snorkelling is also available on the reef just to the south of Pigeon Beach. The holding off Pigeon Beach is only suitable for shallow draft yachts and the holding is not good for long term anchoring. Holding in most of Falmouth Harbour is good but keep clear of the channels of which there are several, all of them buoyed. The north west side of the harbour, near the shore, is shallow and not suitable for yachts of any size but is good south of Blake’s Island and in Turtle Bay. The bay shoals close inshore and the beach is not ideal for swimming but the location is peaceful.
Carlisle Bay, just up the coast from Falmouth, is a beautiful palm-lined anchorage. The shore is lined with coral but the centre has a clear bottom and is calm if the wind is not out of the east. It is a lovely lunch spot but if a swell gets up it can make an uncomfortable overnight anchorage.
Curtain Bluff is another palm-lined beach with an elegant hotel on shore. If the wind is south of east, this will be a swell affected anchorage and the weedy bottom means that holding is poor. Reservations are required for dining in the Curtain Bluff Hotel and gentlemen should wear a tie with jacket if preferred.
Cades Reef When sailing the southern coast of Antigua, the water is calmer inside Cades and Middle Reef. For a clear run inside the reefs line up Goat Head Channel with Johnson’s Point and Old Road Bluff. The sand bank between Goat Head Channel and Cades Reef is constantly changing and sometimes difficult to see, so it is important to be sailing under a high sun and watching the colour of the water. Keep clear of light coloured patches of water. If approaching Antigua from the SW at night, do not confuse the lights of Curtain Bluff for the leading lights of English Harbour.
Picarts Bay (Darkwood Beach) & Ffryes Bay Two lovely beaches make this a good spot for an afternoon lunch. Ten feet can be carried close to shore, but there is a tendency to shoal. There is a rocky patch marked on the charts but not visible on the surface. It is about 1,600 yards off shore from Picarts due west of the sugar mill. It covers an area of approximately 350 square feet and should be given a wide berth.
Morris Bay & Jolly Beach A great place to stop when craving an active social life. Morris Bay offers a secure anchorage for large yachts but as is typical of the west coast, shoaling prevents yachts lying close to the shore. A direct line between Reed and Ffryes Points has five feet of water. A calm anchorage can still be found beyond this line and a quiet anchorage can be had between Pearns and Reeds Point at the entrance marker to Jolly Harbour Marina. Dinghy into Jolly Harbour Resort and spend a day wandering amongst the large variety of shops or enjoy lunch at one of the cafes. For a lively night life there are a number of restaurants and bars. Villas and apartments are available to rent in Jolly Harbour.
Five Islands Bay can be spotted by five rocky islets off the southern part of the bay. It is a secluded anchorage with five beaches. At the head of the bay is a secluded beach but with only six feet of water. The eastern part of the bay is shoal with plenty of mosquitoes. There are two anchorages at the entrance which are favoured by larger yachts however, a ground swell can occasionally make this an uncomfortable spot.
Deep Bay Just west of St. John’s Harbour, Deep Bay offers one of the most secure anchorages on the west coast. Certain weather conditions can generate a swell. There is eight feet of water almost to the beach. Several hotel complexes have been built on this once secluded anchorage. Visitors can take advantage of their facilities including restaurants. When entering Deep Bay, notice the wreck due south of Shipstern Point. It is a great snorkelling area.
Dickenson Bay The beach is dotted with hotels and restaurants, a casino and discos. During the day water sports businesses rent sunfish, windsurfers and jet skis. Water skiing is also available. Horseback riding and tennis courts are on offer. Approach from outside Sister’s Rock if you draw more than seven feet. The bay is open and in certain weather conditions the sea can become a bit uneven. Although it is shallow close to shore, the bottom shelves gently and a controlled approach under Weatherill’s Point is perfectly safe.
North Coast Between Dickinson Bay and Parham Harbour it is flat water sailing and easier than it looks on the charts. Follow the coast at about a third of a mile off shore. To enter Parham Harbour head for the middle of the channel between Prickly Pear and Beggar’s Point, favouring Prickly Pear. Once past the island, head straight for the red buoy marking the north end of Maiden Island. If approaching from the north or northwest vessels should take care to stay clear of Salt Tail and Diamond Banks. A yacht should stay at least 4 miles offshore. Never attempt to enter Parham Harbour from the eastern side of the island except through Horse Shoe Channel. Anchorages between Dickenson Bay and Parham are non-existent.
Shell Beach Marina. Shell Beach can be found on the southern edge of Parham Sound just before Barnacle Point and almost directly at the end of Antigua’s international airport runway. Arrangements can be made for transfers of passengers arriving by private aircraft direct from the airport to yachts anchoring off Shell Beach. The marina is only capable of handling small vessels.
Parham Harbour & North Sound Parham Harbour, located on the north coast, has a channel leading into the harbour. The channel on each side was marked by two red balls just off Maiden Island. The channel is easy to spot but do not attempt to enter or leave except under daylight conditions. Parham Harbour is a well-protected anchorage. There is a small hurricane hole in the mangroves on the southeast side with a dredged entrance of six feet. The jetty end to the east of Myers Cove has five feet of water.
North Sound Marina. No expense was spared when developing the marine facility at Crabbs Marina now known as North Sound Marine Services. Originally built as a private boat yard the vast area of concrete with tie downs for hurricane storage ashore and the large enclosed shed offers one of the best hurricane storage facilities in the Caribbean. North Sound Marine Services has a 150 ton travel hoist, the largest in Antigua, which can lift yachts with a beam of up to 30 foot. In addition to lift out and storage there are a variety of small businesses servicing yachts and a chandlery is planned. Some berthing is also available. Nearby Parham has small shops for staples. It is worth a stroll through the town to view the church architecture. A bus runs between Parham and the St. John’s East Bus Station from the morning until late afternoon. It could take a week to explore the largely uninhabited islands in Parham and North Sound. Midway through the channel is Maiden Island, a shell collector’s dream. A pleasant anchorage can be had under the arm of the island but stay clear of the channel.
Long Island is just to the northwest of North Sound with its exclusive Jumby Bay Resort. The hotel facilities are for guests only but the restaurant is open to the public and there is a ferry from the pier at Dutchman’s Bay. The island’s only anchorages are at Jumby Bay which offers a sandy bottom, shoaling towards the shore, Up to 100 feet from shore there is room for a boat drawing eight feet.
Across North Sound is a group of uninhabited islands, each differing in rock formation, plant and animal life. The reefs surrounding the islands makes approaching them in even a small boat impossible, however, their proximity to each other makes exploring in a dinghy possible. Great Bird Island offers two anchorages to use as a base.
Windy Cove. The entrance to Windy Cove from North Sound has three of its many reefs marked by red posts. These may drift in bad weather so be certain to keep a good look out. A boat drawing no more than six feet can manoeuvre in this entrance. There is more room off the leeside of the island and larger boats can drop back into the sound.
Great Bird Island's nooks and crannies offer surprises for the adventurous. It’s worth a hike up 150 feet on a rocky path for the panoramic view of the coast of Antigua to Indian Town Point. To the west is most of Parham Harbour and North Sound. Notice all the reefs! The reef surrounding Galley Island offers excellent snorkelling. Take a dinghy ride 400 yards to the southwest to visit Hell’s Gate, an eerie island of decaying rock. Tie up your dinghy in the small cove and underwater to the right is a passage through the island, a very competent swimmer can swim the 25 feet, then it’s a hands and knees climb through a rocky hole to the top of the island.
Guiana Island with its 600 acres lies just to the south. Grape Bay is a short dinghy ride from North Sound. Approach the bay from the south to avoid the rim of coral dotted with black sea urchins that edge the shore. The shore, lined with palm trees, is a superb picnic spot. The beach, as are all beaches in Antigua, is public land to the high water mark. It is a lovely spot. Little Bird Island Channel is a tricky exit to the open sea. Attempt it only in calm weather, under a high sun and with a dependable engine. It has 20 feet of water but is only 60 feet wide in some areas. Keep a person on the bow to watch for the reef. When leaving Great Bird Island’s west end head for the southeast of Long Island’s Cistern Point. When Little Bird Island is abeam, turn towards the channel, keeping Little Bird to port and North and South Whelk to starboard. The channel can be spotted stretching northeast. Proceed with caution and never use this as an entrance into the harbour.
Mercer’s Creek (Belfast Bay) and Guiana Bay are completely sheltered bays but entry is potentially dangerous and inadvisable without the aid of a local pilot. At times when trades are blowing, the eastern coast of Antigua from Nonsuch Bay to Bird Islet Channel is difficult if not impossible to approach. The seas can be immense as they reach the rocky coast, somewhere to stay clear from in a small boat.
Nonsuch Bay is a large protected bay where is plenty of room for anchoring and the windward reef offers protection from the sea. The restaurant, The Bay at Nonsuch, offers high quality cuisine in a perfect Caribbean setting. Plans are well advanced for a new, major marina development which will cater for superyachts as well as cruisers. There are many nooks and crannies for exploration around Nonsuch Bay and the reefs leading to Fanny Cove offer excellent snorkelling. The safest exit from Green Island is to return by way of Submarine Rock. The northern exit through Spithead Channel should only be attempted under power and clear visibility. There is not as much water to manoeuvre as the charts show. Keep to the western or leeward side of the channel until there is no discoloured water to windward. It is then safe to head for the deep water. We strongly advise you not to enter Nonsuch Bay from the northern channel unless you have some local experience, as it is very difficult to locate the channel entrance from seaward. Only use the channel in good light. Devil’s Bridge, a well know tourist spot, can be seen on the approach to Nonsuch Bay from the north but it is not an area which can be approached by boat. Composed of limestone rock, the rugged terrain of Devil’s Bridge is the result of millions of years of ancient reef formation. For hundreds of thousands of years, the Atlantic’s waves have crashed into the east coast of Antigua creating a natural arch, or bridge. Numerous geysers and blowholes surround the arch as waves continually break against the coastal rocks. Popular belief suggests that in the time of slavery in Antigua, slaves leapt to their deaths off of the natural arch although there is no historical evidence to support this.
Ledcoff Cove on the north side of Nonsuch Bay, is one of Antigua’s best hurricane holes. A small and well protected anchorage is only suitable for 2 or 3 yachts and of 7 foot draft or less.
Green Island is a favourite spot to “get away from it all.” Don’t be surprised if you find others seeking the solitude of Green Island which is owned by the Mill Reef Club whose private property borders your anchorage on all sides. The mainland is off limits to non-members but the north and northwest side of the island are available for yachtsmen’s use and of course, the beaches, as with every beach in Antigua, are open to the public. Mooring buoys are now available at Green Island but you may find them occupied by kite surfers who tie their boards to the buoys. West of Green Island is Hughes Bay where you will find a dinghy dock to enable you to go ashore.
Indian Creek is a small harbour one mile east of English Harbour and surrounded by land on three sides, offering an excellent hurricane hole for early arrivals. At the entrance watch for Sunken Rock standing in six feet of water less than 100 yards off Indian Point, spotted by breaking water and a favourite dive spot. Stay in the middle of the channel. There are two fathoms of water in the inner harbour. Always anchor to give plenty of swing in the occasional fluke winds. At night the lights from the St. James’s Club can confuse some into thinking they are approaching English Harbour. Do not be fooled as there is a dangerous reef near the entrance and more than one boat has come to grief by making this mistake. The Indian Creek site is important as it represents the entire Ceramic Age (Arawak) cultural sequence of the pre-Columbian period on Antigua. The early ceramic (Saladoid) style on Antigua is called the “Indian Creek” style.
Cruising around Antigua is easy in the fairly constant winds particularly during the season (November to May) when the Trade Winds are blowing. The west, Caribbean, side of the island is more sheltered and has more beaches but fewer islands to explore. For the more adventurous the unihabited island of Redonda lies to the west and offers quite a climb to its summit. To the north lies Antigua’s sister island of Barbuda which was devastated by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and is still recovering. If you are planning a visit, please check with the Port Authority.
ALWAYS USE AN UP TO DATE CHART WHEN SAILING INTO ANCHORAGES. WHILST MOST YACHTS NOW USE GPS AND CHART PLOTTERS, PAPER CHARTS CAN STILL BE USEFUL WHEN NAVIGATING UNKNOWN WATERS. CHARTS ARE AVAILABLE FROM THE MAP SHOP IN ST. JOHN’S AND MOST CHANDLERIES WHO WILL ORDER ONE IF THEY DO NOT HAVE IT.