Thursday, February 19, 2009


I just love this picture! Taken on the beach at Road Bay Anguilla

[Kyle]After having spent a week working in the depths of a Northeast winter, Maryanne and I had a week and a half to go sailing. Our first stop was Anguilla, half a dozen miles to the North of St Maarten/St Martin. We got up early to transit the French side and pass under the Sandy Ground drawbridge into Marigot Bay. Once clear of the shore, we unfurled the sails and had a nice fast reach across the Anguilla Channel to the southwest tip of that Island. Once safely around Anguillita rock, we reduced sail and found ourselves beating hard into the trade winds in a flat sea shielded by the limestone cliffs of Anguilla. We weren’t quite able to parallel the coast and ended up gradually diverging north into rougher and rougher seas and stronger winds. This took us toward many of the uninhabited islands of the Anguilla Marine Park system. We weaved our way amongst these islands until we were sure we would have a downwind course to Road Bay for Customs clearance.

Of all the places we've been so far in the Caribbean, Anguilla has the strictest cruising and anchoring restrictions. Fees are high and based on tonnage (a quasi-measure of volume, not actual weight. Even though Footprint actually weighs about 4 tonnes, we have a documented net tonnage of 8 and a gross of 10, mostly because she is wide and has a deep draught with the centerboards down.) Road Bay is the only approved anchorage in the whole of the country without purchasing (in addition to normal port fees) a cruising permit for $100/day or $600/week. Even with a cruising permit, the only other anchorage where it is legal to anchor overnight is in Crocus Bay, just around the corner from Road Bay. All other anchorages on any of the islands are for day use only, many with additional fees for use of the Park moorings.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Footprint’s tonnage is below the bottom tier for the Anguillan fee structure. This means that if we only stay in Road Bay (and we can’t afford to go anywhere else), our entire stay is completely free. The other good news is that Road bay is a beautiful anchorage.

We got in and went to Customs and Immigration. It was one room occupied by two women who called each other Customs and Immigration. Poor Immigration was in a state of constant annoyance at everything in the manner of a teenager who doesn’t like anything. She was particularly annoyed at the Frenchman trying to clear in in front of us. He was having trouble with all of her questions in English and kept asking her to repeat and speak more slowly, which only made it worse. I thought she was going to send him back to where he came from when she asked him for his birth date ever and ever more loudly as if he would somehow comprehend. Maryanne eventually saved the poor guy by translating the phrase for him, thus enabling him to finally escape her ire so that she could focus it on us.

Apart from a lot of eye rolling, she wasn’t so bad with us and we got in quickly.
Next was Customs – Yin to Immigration’s Yang. She could not have been more pleasant. She even told us that if we wanted directions or information at all about anything on the island, feel free to pop in any time and ask. Now I know why they call each other Customs and Immigration.

Road Bay Beach - Anguilla

After that, we took a tour of the town. We went up the main road to the edge of town. Then, for the second minute, we went back to the dinghy via the beach.
Oh, the beach. What a marvelous beach Road Bay has. The sand is about half a step coarser than dust – just heavy enough to keep it from floating around in the air and the color of eggshells. It is so soft. The water in the bay is that amazing Caribbean blue that still doesn’t seem real to me. It looks as if someone liquefied a clear mountain sky and poured it into the harbor. Add in the sound of the surf and the palm trees hissing in the trade winds and it becomes the stereotypically perfect Caribbean beach.

Except for one thing. The commercial wharf dominates the south end of the beach. It is constantly full of barges and cargo ships loading and unloading. Twenty four hours a day there is the constant rumble of tractors and trucks in an almost unbroken line. It actually made for some pretty entertaining ‘TV’ to watch the ships deftly maneuver into the harbor without disturbing the anchored boats. For the life of us, though, we couldn’t figure out why the port was so busy. There are only 12,000 people on the island. They can’t possibly need all of those dump trucks full of dirt or all of those shipping containers. Perhaps there’s some evil genius building an underground lair…

Our second day in Anguilla we really didn’t do much. It was nice to have the freedom to loaf. We got up deliciously late. I had intended to have a nice slow morning, but then I got out of bed and looked out the window.

The water! I forgot about the water. Suddenly, I’m a kid at the amusement park. I don’t need food. I don’t need coffee. I need to throw on some trunks and go swimming! Aaah, what lovely blue water – just barely below lukewarm so that it takes the bite out of the midday sun. After an initial dip, I did go back for coffee and breakfast, but it wasn’t long before we were both outside diving off the boat. Maryanne had decided that she wanted to work up the courage to jump off the cockpit roof. She spent the better part of an hour watching me demonstrate and then doing test runs before finally chickening out in the end. She said the height didn’t bother her, it was the prospect of not clearing the lifelines.

We swam to the beach, then carried our snorkel gear to the reef at the north end of the beach before going back in to explore. It was the usual reef stuff: pretty coral, pretty fish. Maryanne gets the award for spotting a ray which circled us a few times at just the range of visibility.

Elvis' Beach Bar - Anguilla

We swam back to the boat and dried off. Then we took the dinghy to Elvis’ Beach Bar. (Elvis is a local Rasta Man) What a spot. Part of the bar is a boat that had been cut lengthwise and widened just enough to get the bartender in, serving drinks on the ‘deck’. The place was full of other cruisers and we spent most of our time with Jan of Woodwind. She is a contributor to Sail magazine and gave us lots of good tips about the BVI. We couldn’t help but think about our friend JD. He would love it here (well, I guess most people would).

The next day, we just kinda chilled and enjoyed it all. Aaah... Just what we came for.


Steve Donahue said...

As a member of the board of the Anguilla Sailing Association, I want to apoligize for your immigration experience at Road Bay. We have been working very hard over the years to make Anguilla a "cruiser friendly" destination, but haven't always been successful. We have also lobbied to get fees reduced to bring in more cruisers. I hope your experience didn't turn you off to our wonderful island, and that you'll return again soon.

Steve Donahue, "Juluca"

SV-Footprint said...

Oh My, I don't think there was anything for you to apologize about. We loved Road Bay. For us there was zero cost (our favourite price), so we certainly were not complaining about that! As for the officialdom, that all adds to the flavour (we were amused rather than disturbed), and I have to say Anguilla is probably our 2nd easiest/nicest ever place to clear customs. We'll definitely recommend Anguilla to others.

We loved the beach, the water, and out time in Anguilla, and we'd love to have the chance to return some day.