Anegada, Island of the Low-lying Coral

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Twenty years ago, I sailed to Anegada—almost—when I boarded a plane in Los Angeles and after too many connections arrived on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands for my first-ever charter in paradise. On the itinerary was Anegada, a low-lying coral island 15 miles to the northeast of the main BVI hub of activity. After traveling 3,000 miles, it was so close, a two-hour sail, just a hop really...

Its inaccessibility made Anegada all the more alluring. Once completely off limits to charter boats, the 11-mile island on the horizon was like a siren’s song. Charter companies, which often provide a boat to anyone with a VISA card, were loath to allow their assets to visit anywhere you needed reasonable seamanship to approach safely. Back then, you had to line up compass bearings, keep a sharp lookout for coral heads and hope for good weather while avoiding Anegada’s surrounding 18-mile-long Horseshoe Reef, a notorious boat eater with over 300 known wrecks notched on its belt. Entrance buoys were sparse or nonexistent, and assistance was unlikely, especially when the tradewinds kicked up. And so, after so many miles traveled, we didn’t go to Anegada, and from then on a visit to the island “the world apart” remained a must-do on my sailing list.

Anegada’s population of around 300 mostly lives in the main village called “The Settlement” and makes its living via fishing, tourism or both. Watching Virgin Gorda and Tortola benefit from the thousands of sailors who visit each year spurred the locals into adding entrance markers to guide boats via a couple of dog legs in the reef. Twenty years later and after so much buildup, it was almost disappointingly easy to slip into Anegada’s harbor. After a lovely beam reach from Virgin Gorda, we snaked up to Setting Point where we had the choice of a mooring field that was perfect for catamarans or a small anchorage for boats drawing 6ft or more.

We scrambled out of the dinghy at the Anegada Reef Hotel dock with the first order of business being to make dinner reservations before the 15:00 daily cutoff. A lobster feast is one of the island’s highlights, with split lobsters placed on large grills, the lighting of which is a production in itself. With soft music playing in the evenings, the hotel is the place for a candlelit dinner with your toes in the sand and a forkful of lobster in a dish of butter. Next door, Potters by the Sea is a more raucous affair, with a wild band and a bar serving up endless Painkillers, which can result in quite a bit of pain the next day.

The Spanish were the ones to name Anegada, which means “drowned land,” because it is the only coral and limestone mass in the Virgin Islands’ otherwise volcanic chain. It is just 2½ miles at its widest and reaches the nosebleed height of 28ft above sea level. The protective reef, mostly invisible at a distance from the deck of a boat, stretches out to the south and east and is the third largest in the Eastern Caribbean. Sprawling salt ponds make up much of the western end of the island’s interior, home to the Caribbean flamingos that were hunted out of existence in the early 1900s, but are now being re-established. Another protected species being given a hand is the local Rock Iguana, a timid lizard that nests in burrows on the ground or in the many caves that pop up in the limestone. A head start program for hatchlings provides protection from the island’s feral cats and a visit to the nursery is a good stop on the way over to the 16 miles of pristine beaches on the northern side.

After wandering through a handful of souvenir shops selling T-shirts and locally-made soap, we organized a taxi from the Reef Hotel to Loblolly Bay. One there, we were dropped off at Flash of Beauty Bar & Grill where we ordered lunch and grabbed a beer from the honor bar before being ushered out to the beach by the proprietress as she cooked our food. Perfection—a swim before lunch.

Afterward, we walked along a vast expanse of sugary white sand. Here, the reef takes the brunt of the Atlantic waves, creating calm lagoons along the shore like giant swimming pools full of angelfish, snapper and parrotfish crunching on boulders of elkhorn and brain coral. Seagrape trees line the sandy crescent of beach, and we passed a number of lone benches shaded by palapa umbrellas before we came to Big Bamboo Restaurant where it was just mandatory to have another beer and wait for our taxi to return.

Farther west around the ocean side is the Cow Wreck Beach Bar, famous for taking the cow bones that would wash ashore from the wrecks of cattle ships and grinding them into bone meal for fertilizer. Lounging at Loblolly that day, unmotivated to move too far from our snorkeling gear, we found ourselves out of time to pay it a visit, but vowed to add it to our itinerary on our next visit to the island.

Hopefully our chance will come soon, as opposed to in another 20 years. Between short distances, weather that is mostly fair, and beautiful and plentiful anchorages, there’s just no excuse not to drop the hook there. From now on my BVI charter plans will to sure to include the northernmost island in the archipelago because for me, it’s no longer almost Anegada, but always Anegada.

CHARTER COMPANIES

Cyoa Charters cyoacharters.com

Sunsail sunsail.com

The Moorings moorings.com

Dream Yacht Charter dreamyachtcharter.com

BVI Yacht Charters bviyachtcharters.com

Conch Charters conchcharters.com

Horizon Yacht Charters horizonyachtcharters.com

Zuzana Prochazka holds a 100-ton Coast Guard liscense and cruises Southern California aboard Indigo, a Celestial 48. Check out her blog at talkofthedeck.com

November 2015

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