The race is over. My ship, the Grayhound, spent four days sailing in the beauty pageant of them all, the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. There were 57 entries this year from around the globe. It was the best eye candy that I have ever seen at sea.
But at the end of Race Four, rather than return to our dock at Falmouth Harbor, Grayhound sailed to neighboring English Harbor and the storied Nelson Dockyards. For 18th century Brits, this hurricane hole was akin to what Guam or Taiwan is for the US armed forces today. The Dockyards became the epicenter of the Royal British Navy moxie and was used for resupplying, ship repair and strategic positioning. England, along with France, Holland and Spain, carved up the Caribbean Islands like a piece of fresh sashimi. Even Denmark got into the act establishing colonies on what now is the US Virgin Islands—St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix. What was at stake was sugar, tobacco, prestige and in the early days, gold.
I get to stroll through Nelson Dockyards for two days. There is a fine museum to wander through. There is an active sail loft where canvas was cut in the late 1700s. Before Mic Jagger, Horatio Nelson was Britain’s super star and he was in command here from 1784 to 1787. Horatio later went on to great naval fame and defeated a Spanish-French fleet in a decisive 1805 sea battle, the Battle of Trafalgar. Unfortunately for Nelson, he caught a sharpshooter’s bullet during the fight and met his maker. His body was placed in a cask of brandy mixed with camphor and myrrh, which was then lashed to his ship’s mainmast under guard. Upon arrival in Gibralter the corpse was transferred to a lead-lined coffin filled with spirits of wine.
The only thing that flows at Nelson’s Dockyards today is copious amount of Mount Gay Rum, although an upstart local favorite, English Harbor Aged Antigua Rum made a promotional appearance several evenings. The Classics sailors didn’t mind. They drank everything. After one night of shoreside debauchery, I decided to cleanse the mind and soul and hike the Middle Ground Trail at early morning.
The path starts by bending toward the harbor entrance. Rampart walls with old cannons pointing to sea line the cliff. There is a guard house and powder room from old Fort Berkeley that I wander through. Old ghosts of Britain’s past New World glory hang out here. Only the sounds of wave and wind remain. The actual Middle Ground Trail starts a few feet away and hugs the high ground along this dramatic coast. The birds are out in good numbers this morning and I get to see some that I haven’t spotted on Bonaire like a Mangrove cuckoo, a White-crowned Pigeon and a Giant Kingbird. A trail sign promises one gun battery and abandoned Fort Cuyler, but as I spot remnants of both, I am unsure which is which.
The trail drops in elevation and I wander through a cluster of bromeliads that adorn the trees in this niche microenvironment. This plant family is broad and includes the pineapple and Spanish moss. But the ones I see today are epiphytic bromeliads, non-parasitic plants that grow on trees or rocks, but get their moisture and nutrients from the air and rain. They are beautiful and mysterious with a real primordial T-Rex look to them.
I pop out of Jurassic Park in a heartbeat and find myself at Falmouth Harbor’s Pigeon Beach. People jog in the sand, walk their dogs and swim in the still, morning water. Someone planted a bouquet of flaming pink bougainvillea, perhaps in homage to the sea gods. My coffee clock clicks on. Time for some strong java brew, but there is not a restaurant to be seen. I have two choices. I can walk through Falmouth town and back to the Dockyards or return on the trail that I just hiked. But then a quote from Buddha comes to mind; You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself. I head back up the hill the way I came and through the bromeliads. Perhaps this time, I will become the path.