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The Heart of the Caribbean
By F. Ned Dikmen
Once a major naval base for the British Empire, Antigua is today one of the premiere islands of the Caribbean. Home to a world-class regatta, many festivals and several fishing tournaments, the island paradise offers something for every type of boater.
The island of Antigua (pronounced an-TEE-guh) is part of a three-island state with Barbuda, which lies to its north, and tiny, uninhabited Redonda that lies between the islands of Nevis and Montserrat. In 1784, Admiral Horatio Nelson created a prominent base for the Royal Navy and unknowingly set the stage for Antigua's future. Situated at the middle of the Leeward Island chain, it is the first inhabited island to be reached when crossing the Atlantic from Europe. Its warm, steady trade winds, various safe harbors and extensive coral reef made it an excellent place to conceal a fleet. More than 200 years later, these same attributes have made the island one of the Caribbean’s top upscale tourist destinations.
Today’s fleets are more pleasure-oriented, from recreational yachts to the classic sailboats of Antigua’s Classic Yacht Regatta to international racing boats competing in Sailing Week, which features six days of challenging racing and is considered one of the top regattas in the world. Boats can dock at the several well-equipped marinas on the island that offer mooring. Ports of entry include Jolly, Parham,
Much of Antigua’s history is disguised today as museums, hotels and restaurants. These long-standing buildings were once British buildings and forts that stood on the hills of the outer rim of the island. The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, located in downtown of capital city St. John's, is housed in the original 1750 Court of Justice building, and offers visitors a view into the past.
One of the island’s most treasured gems is Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. Stretching from Mamora Bay to Carlisle Bay, 12 square miles of Antigua's southern coast is locked in the past. The port served as a naval base for a century and a half before the ships became too large for the shallow waters and the economy dried up. The park has restored many historic buildings, including several forts, to serve as heritage landmark buildings. Trails are maintained for visitors to explore the scenic views of the area.
Antigua has a long history with cricket. The popular game arrived with the British in the late 1600s, and is a good way to experience Antiguan culture firsthand. Games are played on a village field or beach and international matches are held at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium, named after one of the game's greatest batsmen.
While on Antigua you’ll find the sea offers a number of activities, from kite- and windsurfing to kayaking to swimming with stingrays. There are 365 beaches and all are open to the public. The coral reefs that once protected the island from pirate ships now attract scuba divers and sportfishing tournaments. Both local and international anglers are drawn to the tournaments held in May, September and November. Boats can be chartered for either deep sea fishing or live bait fishing on the drop off or in tranquil creeks and flats.
Antigua is home to the Caribbean’s only fully submersible catamaran, the SubCat. Each side of the submarine has large windows that allow each passenger to have an unobstructed view of the reefs where angelfish, grunts, snappers, stingrays, lobsters, shrimp, barracudas and others make their homes.
In St. John’s you’ll find Heritage Quay, a modern complex of boulevards and duty-free shops that offers easy access to cruise ship visitors. Nearby is Redcliffe Quay, which is a group of restored 18th century buildings housing boutiques and restaurants. The shops feature the latest fashions, souvenirs and locally made arts and crafts.