Having been in St. Martin for a couple of weeks we were itching to get on the move and the most reasonable and attractive destination for a Christmas getaway was Anguilla. It is a small island, only 12 nautical miles from St. Martin, and rumoured to have the most fantastic beaches in the Caribbean. After a quick discussion we pulled our anchor on December 22 and headed our towards Marigot Bay. The winds were still brisk but when we pulled into the turquoise waters of Marigot Bay we began to feel the pull of the ocean and couldn’t wait to get back into its refreshing depths.
Before we could sail to Anguilla, we had to check out of St. Martin, a French island in order to sail to Anguilla, a British Island. There’s a great deal of checking in and out here but its not a big deal, the officials are friendly and even though it can be a little confusing, it is generally easy to manage. After we cleared customs we headed out across the bay. Before sailing straight for Anguilla however we had to get our genoa sail down for some repairs. We had tried while on the anchor but the thing was stuck and the winds had been pretty high so taking down a 135% sail in gusty conditions in a somewhat crowded anchorage was probably not the most sound idea. Once we were in the bay however it was a breeze (not really). Using the power of the winds on the sail we were finally able to pull it on the deck and stuff it in a bag. And then we were free to sail to Anguilla.
Anguilla is often called ‘the best kept secret’ of the Caribbean, offering an element of exclusivity to travellers. Most probably because Anguilla is also the most expensive island to visit in the Caribbean. The 16-mile island boasts 33 beaches and over 100 restaurants, making it a popular choice for mega-yachts and high-end clients. As we are neither, we debated heading to Anguilla because we heard it can be expensive but after talking with Nancy from Chasseur she assured us it could be done in a reasonable manner.
One of the reasons Anguilla is more expensive is they require any cruisers, mega yacht or otherwise, to pay a cruising fee when travelling around the island. For Ingomar, the fee was $56 US a day. In order to have enough time to explore the island and make it to the few anchorages that are accessible we would have needed a cruising permit for the week. Combined with the cost of food and drink on Anguilla we decided to skip the cruisers permit and stay in Road Bay and hang around the town of Sandy Ground where anchorage is free. You can use the local boats to explore the many cays and islands that make Anguilla so attractive to visitors and rent a bike or car to get around and explore the island.
We arrived in Sandy Ground on December 23rd, dropped the anchor and went ashore to clear customs, as Anguilla is a British owned territory. The customs people were very friendly and we quickly discovered that this is one of Anguilla’s best features. The residents are very proud of their island and welcome travellers openly and warmly. The beach at Sandy Ground is host to many small restaurants and bars, some house Michelin chefs while others are simple beach barbecues but the food at all of them is excellent. We hung around Sandy Ground, swimming, eating and drinking and accessing the best wifi we’ve had yet since arriving in the Caribbean.
Spending Christmas on a white sandy beach was unusual for the both of us but I think we acclimatized very quickly. Filbert loved Anguilla as he got to exercise his bird watching skills frequently. There were various seabirds diving in the bay and pelicans visiting our boat. There were also rays jumping for fish in the harbour and a small turtle kept coming to visit us at the boat.
Any place that prioritizes their environment and places a premium on nature is a favourite in my book and Anguilla is such a place. They value their environment. The Anguilla National Trust works to ensure habitats are maintained. Resorts like the Shoal Bay Beach Village are active participants and are a Certified Turtle Hotel working with the trust fund to ensure nesting turtles are protected and can return every year to lay their eggs. Wouldn’t that make you want to stay at a place like that? It is for me!
Theres also an animal shelter on the island who encourages travellers to participate in a rehabilitation program called AARF, that transports unwanted animals to adoptive families in the US. If you’re flying out and willing to take a puppy on the plane then this group wants to talk with you! The wild bird population is very heathy here as well and the salt pond in Sandy Ground hosted egrets and plovers and many other birds that I could not identify. And the island is clean, cleaner than anywhere we’ve been.
After hanging out for a couple of days in Sandy Ground we decided to take a local boat to one of the islands that lie off the coast of Anguilla. It’s another attraction that makes this place special. These tiny islands are beautiful, with white sandy beaches that make an ideal getaway for snorkelling, sunbathing and general lolly-gagging. We took the boat ‘Bliss’ over first thing that morning, a short 1.5 mile trip to Sandy Island which is about 1000 feet long and 100 feet wide. The colours here were unreal with the powdery white sand, blue sky and turquoise waters! And there were Canadians here before us because the place was littered with innukshuks made from all the dead coral that washes up on the beach.
It was a very windy day and I got soaked going over but not a big deal because I intended on spending the day swimming and snorkelling. While the surf proved too rough for good snorkelling we decided to spend the day reading, walking, meeting some great people and enjoying a fantastic meal from the tiny restaurant and bar on site. They bring everything out with them in the morning and haul it all back to Sandy Ground in the evening.
The islands around Anguilla are part of the Marine Park system and you can visit them at any time if you pay for the permit but you are not allowed to stay overnight. Anchoring is very restricted in order to protect underwater reefs but there are buoys you can moor to for the day. If the Christmas winds are blowing this can make for a rolly day and a very wet dinghy ride in to shore.
After a superb day hanging out we headed back to Sandy Ground, took a stroll through the town and went back to the boat for a rolly night on anchor. The bay tends to get rolly at times because Anguilla is wide open to the Atlantic Ocean and tends to get easterly swells at this time if year. But after our day of sand and surf, I think we all slept through it rather soundly.
The next morning we checked out of customs, hauled anchor and had an awesome sail back to St. Martin with warm easterly winds at around 30 knots making for a very salty and wet sail back to Marigot Bay. We’re here to get some work done in Sint Maarten and then we plan to sail south for more island fun. We plan on coming back to Anguilla either on the return trip or sometime in the future because it is an incredibly beautiful and unique place.
As this is our last post for 2016, we want to wish everyone a Happy New Year! Sharing our travels and adventures with you has been a wonderful part of our journey. 2016 was an incredible year for us and we still pinch ourselves that we get to do this. We hope 2017 will be kind to you all. Good health and much love to you all from Filbert, Al and Tess.