WE DRIVE ON THE LEFT
Contrary to what many people believe, especially Americans, the whole world used to drive on the left, the theory being that when horsemen passed each other they preferred to pass sword arm (their right) to sword arm.
The French were the first to switch in the 18th Century. In pre-revolutionary times, the peasants were forced to move over to the right whenever nobility passed along the road. After the revolution, in order to keep their heads, quite literally, the nobility joined the peasants on the right.
The US followed spasmodically, starting with the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1811 when it was decreed that all vehicles should drive on the right. It is generally thought that this was an anti-British gesture but, whatever the feeling towards the British, they had nothing to do with the decision.
Similar driving laws apply in Antigua & Barbuda as to much of the rest of the world. However, as with many things in these holiday islands, there is a more relaxed attitude to enforcement unless you do something really stupid or dangerous. Things may change a little as there is a proposal to introduce drink/driving laws similar to those in the U.K. which could have an impact on how entertain yourself whilst in Antigua. If you have a hire car and are eating or drinking away from your hotel or villa, visiting one of the many bars or restaurants scattered around the island, especially during events such as Sailing Week, you may want to consider nominating a designated driver who remains sober.
Ox wagons were the main form of transport before the railways and an ox wagon may have been pulled by as many as a dozen oxen. The driver of the ox wagon used to sit on the rearmost, left oxen so that his whip, in his right hand, could range down the length of the ox train. Unfortunately, the drivers, when approaching an oncoming ox wagon, were in the worst position to judge the passing distance between the two wagons and a large number of accidents ensued. As a result, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission decreed that all vehicles must drive on the right and, over a number of years, other states followed suit.
Interestingly, Ford did not build their first left hand drive car until 1908, and Cadlilac was even later, their first left hand drive car being built in 1916.
Main dealers for Japanese and Korean brands such as Nissan, Suzuki, Toyota, Honda, Kia and Mitsubishi plus Chevrolet built in Korea, have been established for many years but European names have found a niche market. A lot of nearly new Japanese cars are also imported as Japan, like Antigua, drives on the left. Left hand drive cars are sometimes imported from the U.S but not recommended. At the top end of the market there is still a demand for high specification off-roaders and some inclination for the less capable but more flashy American models but the most popular up-market 4 x 4’s are Range Rovers in their various guises. Import duties and other taxes on vehicles does make vehicle purchase prices rather on the high side, about equivalent to the U.K. but double that of the US.
Cars and four wheel drive SUVs of varying size are available and a few rental companies have larger seating capacity vehicles. A convertible jeep may seem like fun but consider a closed in vehicle with air conditioning. Hire a vehicle with decent ground clearance if you are planning to visit parts of the island where the roads can be a bit rough. Rates are from about US$45 per day with a US$10 per day optional insurance. A temporary driving license is required, available from any Police Station at a cost of US$20 and is valid for 90 days. Some rental companies will supply you with your temporary licence. The English traffic system is in force so remember to drive on the left at all times. Most of the island has a 40 mph (64 kph) speed limit with a 20 mph (32 kph) limit in all villages and built-up areas. Many of the vehicles are Japanese imports and have speedometers calibrated in kilometres, roughly halve it to convert to MPH and you won’t be over the limit. Always make sure you have a spare tyre and jack in the vehicle before you set out. The wearing of seat belts is mandatory and you can be fined if caught not wearing one. Be aware of new laws this year regarding using a mobile phone whilst driving. You may face an on the spot fine of EC$500.
Several hire companies also have ATVs and scooters but you have to be over 21 to hire one.
Petrol (gas) and diesel are relatively cheap, just above average US prices but about half U.K. prices. Low sulphur diesel is now available but only from the main West Indies Oil station north of St. John’s although it is being extended to other parts of the island.
All taxi cabs are privately owned and standard rates apply throughout the island. Be sure to ask the price and make sure you know if you have been quoted in US$ or EC$. The fare from English Harbour to the Airport is US$31 (up to 4 passengers), US$24 to St. John’s. If your trip is to some remote place or you need a pick up late at night take the drivers mobile number. A safe and secure way to book a taxi is through www.tripservice.me. the mobile phone app offers a quick and easy taxi booking service with driver profile available and function of monitoring the driver as he approaches.
There is no scheduled system on Antigua just numerous privately owned buses, many are the 12 seater mini bus type with some larger 28 seaters. Buses are easily identified by their licence plate. There are some designated stops but you can flag a bus down almost anywhere. To go to town from English Harbour the buses stop outside the entrance to the Dockyard and outside the petrol station in Falmouth. The cost to town is EC$3.50. Buses operate between about 6:30 am until nightfall with a much reduced service in the evening as well as on Sundays and holidays. Sometimes, in the evening, a bus will terminate its journey a few miles north of English Harbour. Ask before you get in. To travel to the north of the island you walk from the Market Place station to the East Bus Station. The driver will give you directions. If you wish to take a bus to Jolly Harbour, you have to go into St. John’s and change.
These days small cargo is as important to yachts as are air passenger services. With the increase in ‘plug & play’ electronics and other replace rather than repair components, the need for the swift delivery of parts is paramount in the yachting market particularly for charter yachts where time in port is lost revenue. Many of the yacht agents act for one or more of these courier services.
Most visitors to Antigua arrive by air and a variety of airlines fly from the U.K. and U.S.. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways fly from the U.K., departing from London Gatwick. Caribbean Airlines fly from London Heathrow. Flights are also available from Manchester but are often not direct. The main airline serving the U.S. from Antigua is American Airlines which operates out of Miami from where many other U.S. destinations can be accessed. Delta has direct flights to and from Atlanta and Continental fly from Newark. Air Canada serves Antigua from Toronto and Montreal. In season, there are direct flights from Italy.
Several airlines depart from Antigua to serve other Caribbean islands. LIAT, the largest carrier serves most islands with very regular scheduled daily flights. Barbuda and Montserrat are accessed by SGV Airlines with both a passenger and cargo service.
A new passenger terminal opened at Antigua’s international airport in July 2015 and has all the facilities expected of a modern airport including a VIP lounge which is available to First and Business Class passengers but other passengers have the opportunity to purchase daily tickets.
There is an FBO at the airport for arriving and departing private aircraft with access direct to yachts from the nearby Shell Beach Marina together with servicing and catering for the aircraft.
Almost all bars yachting market and cafés now have free Wi-Fi although there are a few internet cafes for those who do not have portable computers or internet enabled ‘phones. The marinas and some bars have secure networks which will require a pass code. If you are not moored in a marina, on-line access is available from a variety of sources including ACT. Digicel and FLOW also offers 4G LTE wireless broadband throughout the island.
Mobile ‘phones and local SIM cards are readily available from several sources as is international roaming but that can be costly. A new internet product, TripHub mobile router is available from www.TripService.me application. It holds a data sim to provide Island wide internet service. Find the app on GooglePlay or the AppStore or contact them at their Woods office on 1 268 562 9092.
Marine VHF has almost ceased to exist except for broadcasting. If you are using the VHF, Ch 68 is the hailing and emergency channel although, close to shore, a mobile ‘phone is probably more useful as Ch 68 is not extensively monitored. VHF Distress Channel 16 is monitored by ABSAR, the Antigua Barbuda Search and Rescue, a volunteer service which operates in the coastal waters within VHF range.
The recent high power hurricanes are rare with only 1 or 2 per cent chance of one hitting a Carribean island and, over the past 25 years or so the methods and accuracy of reporting weather have dramatically changed and, as a result, bad weather is not necessarily the threat it once was. Today almost every yacht has satellite communications with the latest forecasts and predictions which enable not only route planning but also assist in a decision whether or not to stay in a port or area during a predicted weather pattern. Check out several sites to get a balanced view of what might happen over the forthcoming days especially if planning an extended voyage. The original VHF English Harbour Radio has been supeceded by a music station but the local and Leeward Islands Marine forecast can still be heard on VHF Channel 06, Monday to Friday (occasionally weekends) at 09:00 followed by notices of interest to sailors and other useful information.