Fun times in Nelson's Dockyard

Written by Bill Woodroffe, SV Kalunamoo

The Antigua National Parks know how to throw a party!  Last year, in order to show their appreciation to the Salty Dawg Sailing Association's support of English Harbour and Antigua, they offered to throw us a lawn party.  You don't need to ask sailors and cruisers if they want to party, all you need to tell them is the time and place!

The time was sunset and the place was the historic Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbour.  The location was excellent because many Salty Dawgs were already berthed a few feet away.  Cocktail tables were set up on the lawn between the Copper and Lumber Restaurant and the quay.  Copper and Lumber, and the entire Nelson's Dockyard, is a World Heritage site run by Antigua National Parks.  To take a med-mooring berth there is a unique experience that is not duplicated easily elsewhere.

As the sun set, the evening air cooled, and the tropical island night that one only dreamt or heard mention of, unfolded.  With cocktails in hand, and sporting our casual Caribbean attire, the sound of a steel pan band and their Caribbean rhythms drifted through the gathering.  Cruisers exchanged and compared their passage stories and inquired about their next island to explore.  Old salts and first timers mixed and matched and learned from each other.

But this night was not for hard planning of future voyages, it was too soon after the arrival for that.  This was a night for enjoying the rhythms of the Islands, and specifically Antigua.  Yes, rum was involved, but so too was the delicious food provided by the National Parks, which set up under a nearby tent.  And that was just the beginning.

The steel pan band that night was the Hells Gate Steel Orchestra.  They were the Steel Band Panorama Champions of Antigua and Barbuda for the last four competition years (none were held during the pandemic).  They claim to be the oldest continuing still band in the world (although The Invaders of Trinidad - where still bands originated - claim the same title).  Pan, or steel drum bands, are very competitive and travel between islands to perform in pan yards or carnivals, and to compete for fame, if not fortune.  The bands in these competitions expand from 25 to over 100 musicians per band.  On this night there were only eight or nine, but they certainly demonstrated the unique Caribbean sounds and rhythms.

Then out came the Moko Jumbies.  These costumed dancers on stilts tower over the crowd defying gravity while swaying and jumping to the beat of the band.  These traditional dancers (the name Moko comes from West Africa) also perform at Carnival on most of the islands.  Originally linked to spirits and ghosts, they definitely do reflect the spirits consumed by the revelers.  In addition to the Jumbies, a parade of local women dressed in the historic attire of calico dresses and parasols danced among the Jumbies and the Salty Dawgs.  By then the Dawgs were up on their feet also swaying, parading, and in short, taken in by the evening's activities, absorbing the mesmerizing effects of a Caribbean evening.  The Antigua National Parks must be commended for this beautiful event, which melded the historic venue with tradition, excitement, and well, just a great party!

A video captures some of this.  For those on this year's Antigua rally, don't miss out on the Antigua National Parks invite!