Twin Island History
September 20, 2014
All the signs pointed towards Antigua. The island had warm, steady winds, a complex coastline of safe harbors, and a protective, nearly unbroken wall of coral reef. It would make a perfect place to hide a fleet. And so in 1784 the legendary Admiral Horatio Nelson
sailed to Antigua and established Great Britain's most important Caribbean base. Little did he know that over 200 years later the same unique characteristics that attracted the Royal Navy would transform Antigua and Barbuda in one of the Caribbean's premier tourist destinations.
The signs are still there, they just point to different things. The Trade Winds that once blew British men-of-war safely into English Harbour now fuel one of the world's foremost maritime events, Sailing Week. The expansive, winding coastline that made Antigua difficult for outsiders to navigate is where today's trekkers encounter a tremendous wealth of secluded, powdery soft beaches. The coral reefs, once the bane of marauding enemy ships, now attract snorkelers and scuba divers from all over the world. And the fascinating little island of Barbuda -- once a scavenger's paradise because so many ships wrecked on its reefs -- is now home to one of the region's most significant bird sanctuaries.
Antigua (pronounced An-tee'ga) and Barbuda are located in the middle of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, roughly 17 degrees north of the equator. To the south are the islands of Montserrat and Guadaloupe, and to the north and west are Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Barts, and St. Martin.
Antigua, the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands, is about 14 miles long and 11 miles wide, encompassing 108 square miles. Its highest point is Boggy Peak (1319 ft.), located in the southwestern corner of the island. Barbuda, a flat coral island with an area of only 68 square miles, lies approximately 30 miles due north. The nation also includes the tiny (0.6 square mile) uninhabited island of Redonda, now a nature preserve. The current population for the nation is approximately 68,000 and its capital is St. John's on Antigua.
Temperatures generally range from the mid-seventies in the winter to the mid-eighties in the summer. Annual rainfall averages only 45 inches, making it the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean Islands, and the northeast trade winds are nearly constant, flagging only in September. Low humidity year-round.
Barbuda is one of those very few islands in the Caribbean that remains--and probably will remain for some time--so undeveloped as to seem positively deserted at times. With the exception of the guests of the island's small number of accommodations, the population seems largely to consist of the graceful Fregatamagnificens, or frigate bird. As the birds possess a marked preference for the northwest lagoon, Barbuda's seemingly endless white and pink sand beaches are left to the peaceful wanderings of those lucky enough to sojourn here.
Activities on Barbuda are appropriately relaxed, including beachcombing (on the northeastern Atlantic coast), fishing and hunting and, at the island's resorts, golf, tennis, snorkeling, diving, or simply soaking up the sun and the calm. Points of interest include the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, the truly noteworthy pink and white sand beaches, and an abundance of shipwrecks and beautiful reefs. Barbuda can be reached easily from Antigua, either by air (a 20-minute flight, twice daily) or by boat (in three hours). The island is home to the luxurious K-Club, Coco Point Lodge and Hotel Palmetto resorts, as well as to a number of other hotels and comfortable guest houses.
Barbuda's history has been intimately tied to that of Antigua for centuries. The first early attempts to settle Barbuda (by both the British and French) were failures, and it wasn't until 1666 that the British established a colony strong enough to survive the ravages of both nature and the Caribs. In 1680, four years before he began cultivating sugar on Antigua, Christopher Codrington was granted (with his brother John) a lease to land in Barbuda. With subsequent leases that granted them additional rights to the substantial wreckage along Barbuda's reefs, they became the island's preeminent family. For much of the eighteenth century the Codrington land on Barbuda was used to produce food and to supply additional slave labour for the Codrington sugar plantations on Antigua, and so the Barbuda's fortunes rose and fell with those of its larger neighbour. Testament to the influence of the Codringtons remains today, both in the island's place names and in its architectural remains. On Barbuda's highest point (124 feet) are the ruins of the Codrington estate, Highland House, and on the island's south coast still sits the 56-foot high Martello castle and tower, a fortress that was used both for defense and as a vantage from which to spot valuable shipwrecks on the outlying reefs.