Anguilla - Somewhere else in the world, it’s morning. But I can’t imagine one as stunning as that which I’m witnessing from the deck of my chartered yacht in the lee of a sheltered cove along the island of Anguilla’s unspoiled Shoal Bay.
The emerging Caribbean sun announces the arrival of dawn in slow, delicate movements, brushing away the last vestiges of night like a summer wind dispersing a reluctant morning mist. The sun’s stealthy rays — slender, blazing arrows of light — persuade the plants, flowers, trees and shrubs to erupt into a radiance of color as they gently touch each one on their way out to sea and the horizon beyond, heralding the start of another glorious day.
Not far away, over the ridge of the cove, I can see the masts of other sailboats standing tall — like silver columns holding up the roof of heaven. There’s a faint hint of a breeze that meanders down the western face of the hillside and nudges our 48-foot catamaran, encouraging it to tug against its anchor, as if to say it, too, was ready for another day of adventure.
This was only the second day of a week-long sail aboard this luxury ‘cat,’ part of a large fleet of cruising sailboats of every size and description meticulously cared for by The Moorings, a world-renowned yacht charter company with bases scattered on virtually every continent.
Sailing vacations have become an integral part of my life, beginning some 25 years ago with my first experience on a single-hull 50-foot sloop from a Moorings’ fleet in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Six of us—all close friends—were eager for an uncommon holiday—and what grips the imagination more than the sea? Tales of pirates and treasure, of white whales, menacing sharks and bold seafaring men had kept us spellbound as children and young adults, and this seemed the perfect opportunity to create our own myths and memories. That first sail developed into a love affair with chartering that remains undiminished to this day. In the years that have rolled by like so many waves on a deserted beach, this annual rite of passage continues to stir our collective souls.
Left: The sailing and beaches here are breathtaking.
Each cruise experience has been as diverse as the Caribbean waters and notable islands we’ve explored, beginning with the Virgin Islands at the crown of the Caribbean Sea, down through the Leewards and Windwards to Grenada in the Southern Caribbean. On this occasion, with long-time friends Dennis and Carol Sanchez and a captain and cook aboard, we set out from the island of French St. Martin in the twin-hulled yacht instead of the more common sloop or ketch that we typically chartered. The catamaran is quickly becoming the charter guest’s first choice, and some of its advantages become apparent early on. It’s fast and loves the wind’s kick, responding to its slightest breath, like a thoroughbred reacts to the whip. That speed and agility in any type of sea is appreciated, especially when you’re island hopping and trying to discover as many unique anchorages as possible in one week’s time. With favorable winds and a following sea, Anguilla, St. Maarten/St. Martin and St. Barth’s are within easy reach.
The cat’s also roomier inside and out, with a living room-sized salon and four comfortable cabins that aren’t in the cruise liner class, but decidedly more intimate. The interior is air-conditioned—a desirable amenity for first-time cruisers—but usually not necessary unless you’ve mistakenly chosen to charter in the Caribbean in the torrid month of August, when the air is as motionless as a predator and the temperatures never fall out of the nineties.
On this early day in May, we began our venture as we had on other occasions—with a customary morning swim. In the jade-colored waters of the bay, only yards from the gleaming white yacht, we encountered a green turtle, several rays and throngs of schooling fish in multi-hued colors seemingly unconcerned with our presence. Even our shouts and frantic pointing failed to alarm these unassuming creatures. We reluctantly swam back to the yacht, but our disappointment quickly faded when we were greeted with a lavish breakfast and steaming coffee prepared quite carefully by Nicky Edwards, our talented cook and first mate. What she created in the yacht’s small galley would draw accolades from any well-known chef. And this was only the beginning of our first full day aboard. For the next five days and four nights, there would be countless hours of laughter, engaging sights—day and night—underwater marvels, incredible food and drink and, of course, the indescribable thrill of sailing.
Most captains—and Captain Bill Grindell was no exception—will encourage you to try your hand at the helm, or to help out with raising and lowering the sails, setting the anchor, or learning how to tie various knots valued by every sailor. You’re certainly not required to take part, but if you do, you’ll readily understand why sailing and the sea are so mesmerizing.
When you get underway and the sails are set, the only sounds are the wind filling the white canvas and the saltwater crashing against the hull as it slices its way through the endless waves. It can be a time of excitement, when you’re heading downwind under full sail and the cat reaches its maximum sailing speed of 14-17 knots, or a time of quiet reflection, should you choose to lie on deck, eyes closed, feeling the sun caress your skin and the salt spray occasionally cooling your body as it moves almost imperceptibly to the boat’s gently swaying motion. Those are privileged moments, to be savored long after they’ve gone.
Finally, there are the islands where you decide to make landfall. Where you can linger for as long as you like, where you are the master of time, for there are no schedules on a yacht charter.
In St. Maarten/St. Martin you can take pleasure in two cultures—Dutch and French. In Philipsburg on the Dutch side, you can shop in the myriad stores on Front Street, or stroll the newly constructed boardwalk along the beach and stop at an outdoor café for a cool drink. In French Marigot, market day on Saturday brings locals and visitors from around the island to browse for handmade crafts and fine art or to sample fresh fruit from island vendors. The French shops offer an abundance of European clothes and distinctive French perfume.
The island also is blessed with numerous beaches, some only accessible by boat. Tintamarre, a tiny uninhabited island off the eastern coast, is a yachtsmen’s paradise. We dinghied ashore, then went inland just a few yards beyond the beach, where the captain promised us a refresing experience. With a bucket of saltwater in hand, he found the perfect area of dried mud, which he promptly wet down. Then he instructed us to cover our entire bodies with the goo and let it dry. After it was sufficiently caked on, we waded into the surf and washed the mud off, exfoliating our skin and enjoying a Caribbean version of a spa treatment
In St. Barth’s, you’re able to tie up at the dock in Gustavia and simply step onshore rather than taking the dingy. The red roofs of this typical French island gleam in the intense sun, and after a leisurely stroll around town, it’s obvious why St. Barth’s is a favorite haunt of the rich and famous. There are great restaurants and bars, upscale boutiques, and patisseries where French pastries will tempt even the strictest dieter.
The beaches in St. Barth’s are among the finest in the world, with St. Jean considered the most unusual. Beach goers are treated to small aircraft flying in and out of the tiny airport just yards above the beach. Sunbathers, considered foolhardy by most, lie alongside the end of the runway and apparently get some type of adrenaline rush from the planes soaring so low over their heads.
Most cruise ships don’t call on Anguilla, so the only way to explore this British-oriented island is to arrive by yacht or fly there to stay at hotels, villas or guesthouses. We maneuvered our cat into several different bays, including Shoal Bay and Rendezvous Bay, both noted for their marine life and colorful reefs. Undoubtedly two of the most memorable experiences were a swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery and later, lunch at Gwen’s Reggae Grill, a charming little restaurant that featured seafood from surrounding waters served on an outdoor patio covered with a thatched roof. After lunch, you can laze on a hammock at the edge of the water and forget your worldly cares, or simply take a nap.
As the late afternoon light started to fade, and the sun began its customary descent into the waiting arms of the sea, we refused a ride back to the yacht in the dinghy and swam to our floating hotel, wondering what Nicky had fashioned for our return. We were eager to reflect on the events of the day and speculate on what tomorrow might bring. Whatever it was, it was sure to leave an indelible mark in our minds—as it always has.