On April 23rd, 2011 the Picton Castle motored into Road Bay, Anguilla. This long and relatively flat coral island represents the most northern of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean. It’s white sand beaches glittered in the mid-morning sun and its indigo and cobalt waters shimmered as they lapped against the shoreline. For many of our crew this island was not just another beautiful island stop along the way. More than a year ago the ship set out from Nova Scotia, Canada on a life-changing voyage around the world aboard the Picton Castle. Anguilla was our first stop. Therefore, this island marked the official circumnavigation for 25 of the original crew members aboard.
There was an air of celebration among the crew, but also one of personal reflection. For many, the idea that they had circumnavigated the globe represented a momentous occasion and one to be marked in a similarly momentous fashion. Others were unable to put their experience into words and wished time to reflect. For some this marks a life-long dream. For others this experience has only opened their eyes to the infinite possibilities, and the explorations yet to come. It cannot be denied that all felt a sense of accomplishment, albeit one almost impossible to describe.
The Captain describes Anguilla as his favourite of the Leeward Islands. After this weekend many of our crew concur. Anguilla was settled in the middle of the 17th century by the English. Despite a brief period at the end of the 18th century when it was ruled by the French, English have maintained the island. It is now officially a British dependency, although they have their own internal semi-autonomous government ever since they broke away from St. Kitts and Nevis in 1971. Unlike much of the rest of the Caribbean Anguilla remains mostly undeveloped but the tourist industry represents an important fraction of its economy. There are striking bays on the north and south sides of the island, practically empty cays off the north coast and friendly beaches where one can hang in a hammock and listen to a string band while locals and tourists alike dance into the evening. This lack of extreme development not only means that the beauty of the land has remained relatively untouched, it also means that the friendly small-town mentality has not vanished – nor have the pristine coral reefs which surround the island. The Captain says that the gross national product of Anguilla is ‘Good Times’. This we would learn for ourselves soon.
We arrived in Anguilla on Easter weekend, which also happened (coincidence? I think not!) to be the weekend of the annual Festival Del Mar. With plenty of sailing, fishing, dancing and activities planned, the island matched the festive mood of our crew perfectly. Catching rides to Island Harbour the crew enjoyed watching the volleyball exhibition, the crab and turtle races, the sailing races and the fishing competitions. Walking along the waterfront many were distracted by the aromas of burnt shell and simmering broth drifting out from underneath white tents set up along the beach for shade and practicality. With delicacies such as locally caught conch soup and crayfish, lunch was a satisfying affair and one to feel good about as well. Anguilla still has some of the best fishing grounds in all of the Caribbean and supporting local fare is always a win – especially when it is as delicious as this was.
In my opinion Anguilla has one of the best music scenes in the Caribbean. Whether we were at Picton Castle offcial pub, The Pump House, having dinner and listening to a guitarist play riffs, reminiscent of Mark Knopfler, with a relaxed Caribbean cool edge or hanging out at Gwen’s by the sea dancing to a string band with a beat so catchy we did not want to leave or standing next to the pin-rail on the Picton Castle at 2am, on watch, listening to the pounding music on shore travel across the bay to our barque – Anguilla inspired us to dance!
On April 26th, after 3 days in Anguilla, we hauled up the anchor and sailed off the hook out of Road Bay. The thoughts the crew had been having, about where they have been and where they will go, how much they have learned and how much more they have to learn were set aside for the time being. The day offered us plenty of sunshine and a 20 knot breeze. We had 20 nautical miles before our next stop in St. Martin and plenty of tacking to do before we got there.
Thank you Anguilla for helping our crew celebrate their circumnavigation in style!