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Cruising Tales: The Quest For That Special Anchorage

Along about 1972 on the cover of a Yachting magazine was a picture taken by Carleton Mitchell of an exquisite anchorage on Anguilla.  A charter couple, Dan and Joellen Hagge, who had chartered us twice in the Virgin Islands were ready to explore other islands. We thought it would be fun to head for Anguilla and try to find Mitchell’s anchorage.

In 1972 Anguilla had not yet been invaded by tourism. Everything was quiet and gentle. When we pulled into Sandy Ground at Road Bay, we were the only charter boat there. Going ashore we dutifully located the tiny wooden customs shack and presented our credentials. The lone officer smiled and sort of glanced at them, then welcomed us warmly. That’s how we were “cleared in.”

We immediately were drawn to the largest structure on the shore, an immense wooden hull being built by only two craftsmen without any power tools. This boat was to become the Miranda Stout which carried freight for many years down the island chain.  It was a fascinating sight to see these two men perfectly shape and smooth the inside of the hull with their adzes. The frames had been carefully selected from trees which had been purposely bent throughout the years to the proper shape for a boat of this size. Can you imagine the patience one had to have to wait years until the size and shape of the tree was just right?

Besides boat building, Sandy Ground was the principal port on Anguilla for shipping salt to Trinidad for the offshore oil rigs which used the salt to cool the drills. Behind the tiny town were cliffs of salt where the salt was collected from the vast salt ponds nearby and eventually bagged for shipment.

We left Sandy Ground to circumnavigate Anguilla clockwise. The first anchorage we happened upon was exquisite. Called Crocus Bay on the chart, it has a tiny, secluded jewel of a sandy beach cuddled by limestone cliffs which contain large, open caves.  From these, numerous Red-Billed Tropicbirds (Phaethon aethereus) fly in and out. It was breathtaking snorkeling beside the cliffs and interesting to climb through the caves. The place looked a little like Mitchell’s picture but we couldn’t be sure until we had circumnavigated Anguilla.

Two little islands, the Prickly Pears just west of Sandy Ground, made us detour for a while, for how could one resist such unspoiled beaches and reefs with nary a dinghy there? But the lure of the unknown anchorage pushed us onward past a small, isolated village and over the top of Anguilla to the eastern side.  The only really comfortable anchorage in most weather is  Rendezvous Bay, for most of that side of Anguilla has mere indentations. We checked them all and found a shell bonanza just before the surf broke at Maunday Bay, the site of a cute little guesthouse.

By the time we had rounded the tip and had headed up to Sandy Ground again, we deduced that Mitchell’s picture had been taken at Crocus Bay from a different angle. This gem had been there in plain sight but we had not seen it from the right angle. We christened this special place “Tropic Bird Bay” and seldom mentioned its existence to anyone else.  Some anchorages are so beautiful that you just want to keep them secret. Selfish? Maybe. But by not calling attention to them, their uniqueness is protected and unspoiled for a time.

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