When Jacques Cousteau said “The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever”, not only was I entangled in the net of the sea, but also that of Jacques Cousteau and his spell-binding underwater world. I was a young Irish girl at the local town library, gazing through the eyes of a man who started me on my journey with the sea. The moment is carved in my memory forever, as I instantly knew the path that I wanted to follow.
During our years in Switzerland, a beautiful and mountainous country so far from the sea, a part of me was forgotten. Our children ski and build snowmen, they ride bikes, they cry when they have to walk on sand. Today I asked them if they remembered arriving here 6 weeks ago. It is incomparable who they were then as to who they are now. During this transition there is a stand-out moment for me: when my son reunited me with my childhood passion for the ocean. When I was his age, I saw the ocean through images in library books. I saw my first coral reef in Thailand when I was 25. I cried inside my mask at the sheer wonder of finally being a part of the life beneath the sea that Jacques Cousteau had whispered about all those years ago. However, when my very zealous son enthusiastically and naïvely put on his mask and swam into the sea, he started to scream through his snorkel – “Look, look, look! Fiiisssssssssshhhhhhhh!”. And there I was, reliving the wonder of those first moments swimming among the populations of the ocean, feeling the serenity of the silence when the water covers my ears, watching and watching and really looking.
This is our ‘go to’ local beach.
When people ask me how close we live to the beach, I could answer 2 minutes or 40 minutes. With Antigua’s 365 beaches, the choice is spoiling. We drive for about 5 minutes to get to Galleon Beach, through English Harbour and up over a steep little hill, in the direction of Shirley Heights, and down to the golden sands. Leave your car just before the barrier at the end of the road leading into the Galleon Beach Club.
As with all the beaches in Antigua, they are open to all the public. Although the resort owns the land set back from the beach, the sand and sea are yours to explore. If you are visiting for a vacation or extended stay, there are small houses available for long and short-term rental within the confines of the security gate here (and you have the added bonus/penalty of the music from Shirley Heights reverberating down to the beach on Thursday and Sunday every week).
On the weekends there are some locals who come here to swim but it is generally a tranquil beach that offers some shade. The beach bar is also a handy hangout. Yachts seek out the sheltered anchorages on offer and sailors swim ashore to taste the rum, and of course, to see what their yachts look like from the land.
In the spirit of intrepid exploration, we walked the children over the rocks and along the coves, waded through the waves and avoided sea urchins, to reach the craggy headland. And what a gem it is! There are rockpools filled with crabs, cliffs, rocks to clamber on, shade to duck under and a hiking trail leading to Shirley Heights. The walk over was the best part for me, as we squealed as the water rose over our shorts and the children thought the sea urchins would actively seek us out to impale our toes.
We didn’t bring enough water and the sun was hot. My daughter cut her leg on a rock. None of that could dampen our enjoyment of crab spotting and our silly dachshund that thought he could catch them.
On the way back towards the main beach we set up camp and snorkelled over the little boat wreck in the bay. It lies in about 5m of crystal clear water and teems with small, tropical fish. Even our 4-year-old could snorkel over the wreck, although we brought an inflatable ring so that the children could grab it for a rest when it all got too much. It is here that snorkel screeching reached a crescendo. The sight of all of those fish and this little sunken boat surprised me with its accessibility from the shore.
As always however, tummies begin to rumble and we headed back to the main beach for a very rustic picnic. In the absence of any kitchen paraphernalia in our little rented house, we had a pasta salad in a cake tin and some fruit for dessert. It was enough. In fact, it was perfect.