Chillin’ in Anguilla is easy to do with it’s white sandy beaches and stunning turquoise waters. This small British overseas territory is very laid-back and has a nice, friendly feel to it. We hired a car to drive around the island and couldn’t help but notice that it appeared more orderly than some of her Caribbean cousins. Generally speaking this island seems more prosperous than many we’ve visited so far. There are some very flash, upmarket resorts and luxury villas scattered along the coastline, some of which would give St Bart’s a run for their money. Not all are back to being operational yet. These days the coconut palms are not so much swaying in the breeze, but rather bent over backwards. Trees are still being straightened and propped up. Thankfully things are not nearly as hurricane ravaged here, including the wildlife. It was great to have turtles swimming around the boat whilst we were at anchor. The fishermen are back out there doing their stuff. The beach bars are mostly back up and running too. They sustained some serious hurricane winds on this island, but the houses are more substantial and solidly built, many with concrete roofs, so even though Anguilla is low-lying it faired better than the neighbouring islands. They still had their problems with looting and lawlessness in the immediate aftermath of Irma, but nowhere near as bad as other islands by the sounds of it. This place has a great reputation for SCUBA diving with a number of old ships sunk to create new dive sites that attract plenty of fish. I was unsure how good they’d be after the hurricane season, but need not have worried. The diving was fabulous. I have never seen so many lobsters in one place before! Plenty were hiding in the wreck I dived on, including one just hangin’ out, then scurrying across the ocean floor. Being in a marine park meant catching lobster for dinner wasn’t an option.
You’ve just gotta love a country that has a capital called “The Bottom” and when you’re driven there they actually say: “Welcome to The Bottom”. (Which is weird because you’ve just gone steeply uphill from the harbour, which is at the bottom of the island.) As you approach Saba her rugged, craggy peaks soar from the horizon. We both fell in love with Saba. Only five square miles in size, her beauty is found in both her 2,800 ft majestic peak and her treasures under the sea. This is an island (country) full of very friendly people, and almost non-existent crime. But then, if there are only 2,000 of you everyone’s probably going to know what’s going on. This tiny island was settled by hardy Dutch and a few Scots who apparently worked side by side with their slaves. When I first read the cruising guide I doubted we’d ever actually take Loki here, as the island is often subject to major boat-breaking swells (two moored yachts were lost on her coastline a year ago), but as luck would have it we had a good weather window and perfect conditions for our stay. We picked up a mooring off Ladder Bay, which until the 1940s was the only access point to the island. Here some 800 steps are hewn into an almost sheer rock face by which, for a long time, everything was transported to and from the island. In the image of “Loki” on her mooring you can just see the steps going up the cliff behind her stern. The anchorage is OK, so long as there isn’t a big swell. Needless to say we kept a very vigilant eye on the forecasts. (Photo credit for the aerial shot: sabatourism.com)
We were very fortunate to have a clear, blue sky day for our climb to the top of Mt Scenery, with not a cloud in sight and enjoyed walking through the lush tropical forest that is so often shrouded in cloud. The views from the top were breathtaking. Saba is a “special municipality” of the Netherlands, and you can have any colour house you like, so long as it’s white, with green trim and a red roof. The whole place is picture postcard perfect. It is spotlessly clean. Not even so much as a cigarette butt on the ground. (Are we still in the Caribbean?) One of the things I most enjoy about traveling is noticing how the small things differ. Here it was public transport, or the lack thereof. There are no buses, but everyone said: “just put your thumb out, most people will give you a lift” which was true. We even managed to hitch a lift with a garbage truck from the capital, back down to the harbour! And yes, the cabin was very clean.
We’d heard the SCUBA diving here was some of the best in the Caribbean and we noticed dive boats near a rocky outcrop as we approached the handful of moorings that are available. The first dive we did was awesome, diving on and around two rocky pinnacles that started in 5 metres of water then plunged 20 metres vertically down to a sandy bottom. The many colourful fish and coral we saw would rival anything I’ve enjoyed on the Great Barrier Reef. (Photo credit: SportDiver. The photo’s not mine, but is similar to what we saw.) They call Saba “the unspoilt queen”. She’s certainly an unforgettable gem. So glad we got to visit.
We had a few more days hanging out around St Kitts waiting for the right weather pattern before we headed south, then we were off to Montserrat. We’d last visited here in 1998, which was not long after the volcano ended 400 years of dormancy. Having seen what it was like in the aftermath we were keen to revisit and see how the small island nation had faired since then. The island has an immensely strong Irish heritage, so much so that they take a week to celebrate St Patrick’s Day! Many Monserratians who left the island after the volcano became active come back for the festivities. We met people from New York, London and Atlanta who had all come home to party. Just love the way the girls do their hair!
The other thing that Montserrat is famous for is its musical legacy. Sir George Martin (“the fifth Beatle”, who produced every record they ever made) set up his famous AIR recording studio here in the ‘70s. The roll call of who recorded here is a long list of rock & roll royalty: Paul McCartney, Sting & The Police, Elton John, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, to name just a few. Local filmmaker David Lea has set up a cafe which is like a shrine to the local musical past filled with photos, memorabilia and also found objects salvaged from the now ash-buried capital of Plymouth. There is even a photo of Little River Band with Glenn Shorrock sporting a pair of budgie smugglers! Had to go back to the boat and dust off the “Diamantina Cocktail” album after that. When we were last here in 1998 we managed to sneak into the exclusion zone of Plymouth, (only a year after the volcano blew). I have a photo at home of the clock tower, very similar to the one with David Lea standing in front of it, possibly taken around the same time. But after further eruptions it’s now it’s all completely buried. Nothing to see here. Considering these people have to put up with volcanic eruptions as well as hurricanes I think they are amazingly laid back!
So, think back to the last time you were standing in a Customs & Immigration queue at an airport, waiting to enter a country, passport in hand, surrounded by equally jaded travellers, with jack-booted, gun-toting officials everywhere. Instead, why not just go to the local clothing boutique and sit at a computer for 5 minutes to check in? Voila! You’re all done, welcome to Deshaies, Guadeloupe! We like to take the piss out of the French for their laissez-faire attitude, but every now and again it’s nice to be reminded that there once was a simpler time where officialdom didn’t permeate every aspect of our lives. Guadeloupe is an island shaped a bit like a lopsided butterfly. We toured around parts of the left-hand wing, taking in some lovely walks and watching locals enjoying the beautiful waterfalls in the well looked after national park.
But the part we enjoyed the most was Les Saintes, the small group of islands to the south of Guadeloupe, which is just like a small slice of France dropped into the Caribbean. Terre de Haut is a quaint fishing village, which has nice walks with terrific views and a great selection of well-priced restaurants. Just love the brightly painted Creole houses, many sitting right on the beach.
You can saunter along the waterfront and see the daily game of fisherman versus iguana (the fisherman has to distract the iguana with lettuce so he can chop up his catch in peace).
There’s a great hike up to the top of the island for stupendous views. After enjoying a week here we eventually dragged ourselves away.
As you sail towards Dominica you can see the outline of the spindly trees running along the ridges of the mountains. What you’d normally describe as green and lush, now looks green and shredded. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria is still very evident, even from a distance. When you round the headland into Prince Rupert Bay there’s a guy in a small boat who calls out: “Welcome to Dominica! I’m Lawrence of Arabia. I can help you with a mooring.” He’s a member of P.A.Y.S, the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services, a group of river guides who formed an organisation to provide services to cruising yachties, including: mooring buoys, boat taxis, organising tours, dingy security, etc. (formed out of necessity after a “bad incident” a number of years ago). These guys are really friendly and helpful. Titus directed us to our mooring and organised a tour of the island for us the following day.
Boy, if we thought St Martin was badly hit, these people really copped it. It’s now six months after the event, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was a few weeks ago, the devastation is still massive. Parts of the island reminded me of the Australian bush after a bushfire. Lots of trees stripped of limbs and leaves, with fuzzy new growth appearing along their trunks. All their crops were wiped out, so there are no bananas, mangos, papaya, cacao beans, etc. which is not only bad for the farmers, but also the local bird life as there is so little for them to eat. But a local will happily climb up a bay tree to get some fresh bay leaves for you. We visited a chocolate maker, who could only show us his empty bean drying shed and how his equipment normally worked. Happily he still had some product to sell us.
So how many different kinds of rum flavours are there? Well, apparently if you can grow it, you can soak it in rum. We stopped at a rustic cafe for lunch where they had an enormous variety of rum flavours each with special “medicinal” purposes. Passionfruit, nutmeg, lemongrass, basil, etc. I couldn’t get excited about the garlic flavoured rum, but the ginger rum punch was OK. Like everywhere else in the West Indies, once you finish talking about the rum just mention Sir Viv Richards or Joel Garner and you have an instant conversation. They’re all still made about cricket. (Max D, you’d be in your element!)
No point in going on a tour of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film sites here. None of the locations look like they used to. But despite the massive destruction that has affected so much of the island we enjoyed some of the natural attractions, taking a dip at the Emerald Pool (you get a terrific neck massage when you sit just underneath the falls) and the Wooten Waven hot springs. You can only imagine what this place used to look like, as much of the landscaping was destroyed, but the hot springs still felt good!
In the final stages of our tour I spied a young teenage boy perched on top of the remnants of a palm tree in the middle of a river. He’s old enough to remember Hurricane Erica (2015) & Hurricane Maria (2017). I wonder, how many more will he see in his lifetime? This is not a wealthy place and unlike some other Caribbean nations it doesn’t have a rich parent country to assist with aid. The bigger question is: “How will these people ever get ahead?”
We’ve had some great sailing between the islands and have worked out the weather patterns. There are usually wind shadows in the lee of the islands, but the forecast is often a bit underdone once you get out into open water. So 15-20 knots between the islands, gusting a bit more, has been the norm. Just need to keep a lookout for the occasional swells that come down from the north Atlantic. There are no land masses to stop them, so when you get a good blow up north they just head south and wrap around the islands. Choice of anchorage becomes very important!
I hope you’re all enjoying a well-deserved Easter break and all is good at your end.
Thinking of you!