Saturday, June 14, 2008

Prickly Pear

Years ago, before our daughter was born, my wife and I took a trip to the Caribbean. We had a disagreement over exactly where we should go. She wanted to go to Anguilla, which is just a large sandbar, 16 miles long by 3 miles wide. I had never been to the Caribbean before, and I was concerned about unfamiliar dangers, such as hurricanes, shark attacks and dysentery. I didn't want to go anywhere that was too small to have its own hospital. So we compromised, and went to Antigua instead. It was a great trip, full of memories, but of course, my wife harbored a deep resentment, feeling that somehow I "owed" her a trip to Anguilla.

While in St. Maarten, she discovered that there are snorkeling tours to Anguilla, operated by a company at our hotel. But we waited too long to make a reservation, and they were full. So we hunted around for another tour operator, and found one that operates out of a little waterfront barbecue joint down the road. Unfortunately, they weren't going to Anguilla, but to a small, uninhabited island called Prickly Pear. Because Prickly Pear belongs to Anguilla, we were required to bring our passports. And technically, I'm off the hook for the trip to Anguilla.

The boat is a 60-foot sailing catamaran called the "Bluebeard." It has a large Heineken logo prominently displayed on the hull. The captain told us that Heineken pays for the sail (which also bears the logo), gives them a stipend for gas every year, and lots of free Heineken. In exchange, they ferry bigwigs around during the Heineken Regatta every year. Here's the sail:


They ferried 17 passengers to the boat in an inflatable dinghy, and the captain took us out of Simpson Bay under engine power. We rounded the tip of St. Maarten, and all of the men on board were conscripted by the captain to help hoist the mainsail, which is hard work. I might have been annoyed by this, but the trip included free drinks. The crew raised the jib, and we were off, skimming over the deep blue ocean. It was breezy and warm, and completely delightful, as long as you didn't suffer from seasickness, as this woman did:


My daughter has been frustrated the entire trip because her cell phone doesn't get a clear signal at the resort. To her delight, she discovered that once we were out of Simpson Bay, she was finally able to send and receive text messages, which is how she spent the entire trip.

Meanwhile, I familiarized myself with the industrial nightmare known as a marine toilet:



The crew consisted of a captain and three deckhands, Rydeck, Ingrid and Josef. The deckhands handled the sails, the anchor and the dinghy, which occupied about 1/8 of their time. The rest of the time they took drink orders, and they happily spent most of the trip making rum-and-cokes and tequila sunrises for the increasingly relaxed passengers.


Ingrid is from Tanganyika in Africa. Her husband is a professsional sailboat racer (who knew there was such a profession?).

Josef is from the Czech Republic. He has a degree in Mathematics and Chemistry, but decided to see the world before he settled down to teach. While travelling through Europe, he met a guy who owned a sailboat and was sailing from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, so he hitched a ride as a crew member. He moved around the Caribbean for a couple of years, including a memborable stint on the island of Dominica, where he lived for 3 months on $40. "I spent most of it on cigarettes," he admitted. "It's like paradise," he said. "You reach up and pick fruit from the trees, or you dig up a root, you make a fire, and you eat. The people are happy to meet you wherever you go, and will invite you to stay with them." He's thinking of Central America next. I envied his footloose, casual approach to life. Of course, my father would have called him a "bum."

Eventually, we arrived at Prickly Pear, a tiny little coral island with a perfect white sandy beach.


The captain dropped anchor, and everyone got into the water to snorkle along the reef that protects the beach.


The water was as clear as vodka. On shore, the captain rang a bell to call us to lunch, which had been prepared for us in a tiny restaurant operated by an Anguillan man and his wife, who service the boatloads of tourists who come here every day. My daughter was captivated by the little yellow-bellied finches that ate rice right out of her hand.


Afterwards, everyone sunned themselves on the deserted beach.


Sadly, we had to leave, and everyone got on board for the return trip. Rydeck dropped a fishing line in the water, trolling a lure. Within 15 minutes, the reel started squealing, and he reeled in this Spanish Mackerel:


We rounded the point of Anguilla (those mountains in the background are St. Maarten), and sailed along the highly-developed coast of St. Maarten, followed by black-headed gulls looking for a handout.



1 comment:

andrewmcd said...

Hi-great post!-We were lucky enough to have our luxury holidays in Anguilla last year-it was amazing!-The people, beaches and weather were all superb-cant wait to go back!