The Virgin Islands, Part III, Island of Anegada

Paradise Found by Captain John Borden

The Island of Anegada
18.46 N.Lat / 64.24 W.Lon

Anegada Island“There!  Right there, I think I see something.”  These words are uttered by nearly every sailor who ventures 14 miles north of Virgin Gorda on route to the most overlooked island in the British Virgin Island chain.  Not only is Anegada the least recognized, it is also the least mountainous: the highest point on the island is less than 28 feet above sea level.  Anegada does, however, boast the largest barrier reef in the eastern Caribbean and the fourth largest in the world.

With over 22 miles of virgin beaches and 23 miles of unbroken reef, one would think that Anegada would have long since been snapped up by some enterprising resort developer.  The island has only a few hundred year-round residents, most of whom are fishermen and their families.  There was one bold English entrepreneur who in 1968 convinced the Crown to lease the island to him for development.  However, his vision of creating a vacation paradise was short lived.  After building a hotel, numerous homes, roads and an airstrip, his dream died before it could come to its fruition and, alas, Anegada settled back to being the same small fishing community it had always been.

Anegada IslandFor boaters Anegada is indeed an island paradise if you can get there with both your boat and you intact, that is.  Because of its difficult approach, bareboat charter companies forbid visitation unless escorted by a professional skipper.  The island is virtually unapproachable except from the southwest corner, where you will find the conveniently located Anegada Reef Hotel.  Lowell Wheatley and his companion Sue have operated the hotel for quite some time now, and seem to attract more and more visitors each year.  Lowell, who also runs a commercial fishing boat, has become quite a local hero in the British islands.  On more than one occasion he has risked his life to save unfortunate sailors whose crafts had fallen prey to the reef during severe weather.  I personally recall one such incident where the crew of a brand new Swan 86’ sailboat had transmitted a distress call over the VHF radio.  Because of the gale force winds I had ducked into the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor, where several of us sat listening intently to channel 16.  Quickly checking our charts, there appeared to be no hope for the yacht and her crew.  Pounding ferociously against a maze of razor sharp coral, Lowell’s open fishing boat was their last hope.  Within minutes the three million dollar racing sloop was lost.  Yet somehow, Lowell managed to retrieve every last member of her crew-a task only he had the local knowledge to execute, not to mention the sheer courage.

Back at the hotel’s lobster barbecue, Lowell is more in his element.  The Reef Hotel is the hub of Anegada, and his tiny beach-front bar is alive with an unlikely mix of locals and visitors who are invited to concoct their own poisons (as long as they’re keeping tab!).

If you don’t call ahead to reserve a lobster for dinner, you’re simply out of luck.  These mesquite grilled delicacies are in high demand.  Lowell always draws a crowd as he effortlessly bastes and turns as many as 50 lobsters at a time.  He will even give a brief lesson in mind over matter, by slowly plucking a red hot coal with his bare hand, holding it up in full view, and then gently returning it to the grill.

If you can still move the next morning, you would do well to take the hotel van across to the north side of the island.  It is here that Anegada’s unique beauty is revealed; not so much by the miles of virgin beach, but within the coral reef that envelopes the island.  There are numerous wrecks and reef caverns for both the experienced scuba diver and the not-so-experienced snorkeler.  For myself, I enjoy free diving the coral walls and even venturing on occasion into the natural caves and passages formed by the reef.  This usually turns into a curious game of hide-and-seek played on my wife and our guests.  The only comparison I have to this experience is off Boarder Island, in the Whitsunday chain, located on the southern end of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.  For diving in the eastern Caribbean, Anegada has no match.

Anegada IslandI’ve always found it quite amusing that while thousands of sailors visit the Virgin Islands yearly, many of them have no idea what lies just north of the primary archipelago.  From the Spanish, Anegada fittingly translates to ‘inundated’ or low lying.  Indeed, she is easily overlooked.  On the clearest day, sailing through the north passage of the ever-popular Virgin Gorda Sound, I’m sure a vacationing sailor or two have rubbed their eyes at what they might conclude to be merely a mirage.  You cannot fault them.  I myself have been fooled by the sea, and in front of charter guests.  Leaving Anegada one day, believing my boat to be clear of the surrounding coral, a young lady pointed to what appeared to be a partially submerged coral head.  Just as I was vocalizing my suspicions, the bump disappeared.  Seconds later it dramatically reappeared as a full-grown humpback whale breaching 40 feet skyward!  Nature can make fools of us all.

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