But then I got a break and took a closer look. Twenty shades of green punctuated by a rainbow of pastel-painted villas and small hotels. Alabaster beaches – snowy and incandescent, impossible aquamarine waters nuzzling the shore, a hue I’d never seen anywhere else in the Caribbean.
The view snuck into my psyche, an Antillean Shangri-La that haunted me come winter until I decided that next time, chartering a Moorings boat out of Orient Bay, I would plot Anguilla on my charts.
I would make it my first port of call.
In doing so, I discovered that Anguilla is as much an A-list port of call for sailors as it is a must-do for the A-list celebrities of the world.
And I made some indelible entries in my ship’s log.
Entry: North out of Oyster Pond, past Orient Bay. Beam reach up to the lee of Tintamarre. Crossing the channel – cutting closer to Anguilla, past Rendezvous Bay, past the voluptuous brown sugar sand dunes at Cove Bay; the neon lime waters of Maundays Bay, fronting the Greco-Moorish villas of Cap Juluca. Rounding Anguillita, pin-cushioned by cacti, clearing the point to the west where seas throw themselves fearlessly at pumpkin-coloured cliffs etched with old-man-wrinkles by the sun which disappears suddenly behind a line squall. But we fly close-hauled on flat waters toward our destination, the heights overlooking Road Bay, an anchorage Chris Doyle calls “one of the most pleasant anchorages in the northern Leewards,” dead ahead.
Post-squall, a rainbow appears, an Anguillan welcome without parallel.
Entry: Perfect sunrise, peeking shyly over the heights just northeast. A lazy reach out to Prickly Pear Cays, limestone sculptures decorating the land beside our lunchtime stop. Ivory sands here, sloping gently to jade and sapphire seas.
Our boat swings at anchor in a somnolent samba just south of a pair of islands we share with but one other vessel.
Lunch is preceded by hors d’ouvres preceded by a snorkel in crystal-clear waters calm as a Sunday morning. Crew member Jerry Gorman cracks open a sweating bottle of Pinot Grigio, his wife Claire sets the table in the cockpit.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” says Claire, spreading foie gras on fresh-baked bread.
Entry: An early morning rainstorm—raindrops putting down a syncopated groove on the coach roof—then clear skies. An easy sail in the lee of Anguilla, perfect winds, flat water, a loop around Sandy Cay, a Gilligan’s Island of a sandbar. Dropping the hook in Crocus Bay and discovering, by dinghy, a tiny beach hunkered down at the base of a craggy, multi-coloured cliff, a beach we share with no one.
I remember Claire’s comment and silently agree.
Until I venture ashore.
I catch the green flash at the opulent Sunset Lounge at the new Viceroy Resort. I succumb to the rum punches at Elvis’s – a delightful establishment with a boat for a bar; I gaze out at St. Martin’s twinkling lights in the distance from my vantage point at Dune Reserve, now officially the best beach bar in the world. My foot taps in time to the rhythms of the Mayomba Folkloric Group as they present both local history and music, just before I fill up on the traditional weekly Caribbean buffet at Anacaona Boutique Hotel; I baste on the sizzling sand of Shoal Bay, rated one of the world’s best beaches. I discover Scilly Cay, my own little oasis, and nosh on lobster served by a guy who calls himself ‘Gorgeous’.
Early in the morning on our last day I sip coffee in the cockpit, watching pelicans dive-bombing for their breakfast.
I prepare my own breakfast, reflecting on our adventure, on the perspicacity that convinced me to move Anguilla from my bucket list to my A-list.
And I decide that I may never raise the hook again.