Friday, January 16 -- Road Bay to Crocus Bay via Sandy Island and Prickly Pear Cay
From Road Bay, Sandy Island looks like the perfect desert island, with its palm trees and white sand beaches. We were advised to be moored at Sandy Island in the Marine Park before the main tourist rush started around 10:00, so we were up at 6:00 and quickly ate an abbreviated cold breakfast, even sacrificing our usual caffeine drink of choice. Even so, we had a short delay when we noticed that the refrigerator was not working. We (i.e. Hubby, the Mechanical Engineer) finally figured out, by reviewing the electrical schematics, that besides the Fridge Switch on the instrument panel the AUX Switch also had to be on for the fridge to work. We were relieved it was something simple to resolve. All our food for the next 7 days was in there.
As detailed in yesterday's entry, we had already purchased our Marine Park permit for today when we arrived in Road Bay, so this morning we had no other paperwork to do. Motoring less than 2 miles to Sandy Island, we were the second boat to drop anchor on the west side of the island (this island had no mooring balls so we carefully picked a spot with a sandy bottom) and launch our dinghy over the shallow, rocky bottom to the beach. In one shallow snorkel spot we found a few interesting fish but only a bit of boat wreckage and no thriving coral reefs to explore. Considering that the island was almost totally destroyed by Hurricane Luis in 1995 it was good to see even small signs of recovery. The largest assortment of parrot fish we had seen so far was so concentrated in one spot that we didn't need to roam very far to watch them. A small ray moved across the sandy bottom for us but it was not enough action to keep us there. We carefully manuevered the dinghy through a deeper channel and back to the Tartane, hauled up the anchor and set a course for Prickly Pear Cay. Since it was at least 5.6 miles from Road Bay we hoped for better snorkeling there. Boats were already arriving, as predicted, at Sandy Island.
About Anguilla's Marine Parks: In 1993 Anguilla set aside seven Marine Parks to protect important coastal fisheries, the tourism business and the island itself from the chain effects of coral damage due to destructive boating practices and pollution. Thriving coral reefs and beaches protect Anguilla from violent hurricane waves. The coral reefs are also the main source of sand which rebuild Anguilla's protective beach line. Any protection is worth preserving, as Anguilla's beach is retreating by an average of about 30 feet with each major hurricane. With an average width of 3 miles, Anguilla can not afford to lose shoreline along its 16-mile length. In 1995 Hurricane Luis completely washed over Sandy Island. The palm trees seen today are replanted replacements that have grown since then.
The park waters around Dog Island, the Seal Island Reef System and Shoal Bay were off-limits to us, as explained in our Sunsail briefing. Stoney Bay is Anguilla's first Underwater Heritage Site, primarily used by divers to explore the 1772 shipwreck, El Buen Consejo, in those waters. The waters around Sandy Island, Prickly Pear Cays and Little Bay are the three park areas best suited to snorkeling.
Within the Marine Park boundaries anchoring is not permitted without special permission. The mooring balls are for day use only between the hours of 6:00 and 19:00. The red balls are only for dive boats so all other boats must use a white mooring ball.
Once we were clear of obstacles we raised the mainsail and ran (slowly) with a light breeze. Fortunately we arrived early because there were only 2 mooring balls and we picked up the last one. As we were warned during our briefing, the rope loop of the mooring ball was frayed; it did not look trustworthy. To make the mooring connection more secure the captain dinghied out to the ball and looped our own rope around the bottom loop of the ball and up to the bow cleats of the boat. Lunch was the next priority -- make-your-own wraps with hummus and broiled chicken breasts from our first night's dinner. A spread of raw veggies, cheese and pickles rounded out the lunch. So as not to occupy the mooring ball for too long we didn't take time for lunch cleanup. Instead, the crew hurried into the dinghy and motored through the gap to the other side of Prickly Pear Cay. The captain stayed with the boat to be extra sure it didn't come off its mooring ball.
From the beach the snorkeling didn't look promising. After walking around the point to see the other side and following some humming and hawing, Hubby and I decided to take the suggestion of a strolling couple and swim out to deeper water along the shallow reef. Once we reached the deeper water the variety of fishes was better than most places we had been already, but there was a strong current and it was a long swim to reach this place. The other four decided not to snorkel. One dinghied back to the boat to swap places with the captain, who came back to capture photos of the beautiful beach and clear water in this peaceful tropical getaway. We were told that we just missed the hatching of baby turtles and their frantic scramble across the beach to the ocean. Darn! We wished we could have stayed a little longer but Hubby and I didn't want to keep the rest of the crew waiting on the beach. Soon we all were back on the boat and motoring to Crocus Bay to look for our night's mooring. Where had the time gone? It was 16:30 already and we hadn't served the caffeine as planned. Too late now, as there was still more to do here before dark. Three went in search of an ATM, which was supposed to be just over Crocus Hill (at 213 feet, the highest point on the island) towards The Valley. Three stayed to wash, chop and stir fry veggies. Dinner would be the stir fry with half of the pound of rice cooked last night and the rest of the broiled chicken not eaten at lunch (you bet...provisions were too dear to waste anything).
The others returned at about 18:30, with very sore feet, to tell of their longer-than-expected but successful adventure. The Crocus Bay mooring tonight was quiet and very calm, with only light breezes and a gently-rocking swell. We saw two turtles grazing in the bay near the Tartane. We were surprised that everyone liked the licorice tea we had brought with us. After dark, lots of stars twinkled above us. Good conversation filled the remainder of the evening until 22:00.