For a couple of centuries, Anguilla has stood out as a bastion of old West Indian grit. As late as 1967, when Britain, shedding colonies right and left, forced the 16-mile-long island into a union with St. Kitts and Nevis, the Anguillans mutinied. They kicked St. Kitts police out and sent 18 brave men from their 3-mile-wide home to the much larger neighboring island, which was armed with a defense force.
The act was a statement that Anguilla wanted to stay British, and after two years of confused negotiations, the Anguillans welcomed Her Majesty's paratroopers ashore. The island was again content within the English embrace, and it remains so today, ready to welcome visitors to its dozens of hotels, resorts and award-winning restaurants.
As the long island, whose name means eel in Spanish, came into view, I leaned on the bulwark lining the mid-level afterdeck aboard the 156-foot Broward Inspiration and looked down on the swells rolling between St. Martin and Anguilla. White wave crests told me the wind was up, but the 1996 build powered smoothly on an even keel. Only the steady, muted beat of her twin 2,400 hp Detroit Diesels indicated our speed as chief stewardess Melanie Benton cheerfully handed me a cup of espresso and announced that lunch would soon be served, part of the four days we spent aboard courtesy of Inspiration's owner.
We anchored in Road Bay, toward the West End on Anguilla's northern coast, sat down to sweet lobster and briny green-lip mussels fricassee, baby vegetables and a lemon-saffron beurre blanc, and discussed whether we wanted to leave the yacht at all. With an elegant décor, a first-class crew and a design great for privacy or group fun, Inspiration is so comfortable it's hard to pull yourself away for shoreside exploration, no matter how interesting the island's past.
After lingering over a bottle of Jacob's Creek chardonnay and complimenting chef David Newman's preparation and presentation, we climbed into Inspiration's fast, stable RIB, with first mate Steve Vizintin at the helm. Thoughtfully, Capt. Bob Corcoran had arranged for a minibus to meet us, and we promised to behave when our driver told us his last name-the same as the leader of the Anguillan rebellion.
Since none of the island's resorts can match Inspiration's palatial comforts, we headed to the eastern end of the island to see whether Old Anguilla survives. Since the early 1800s, many Anguillans have earned a living from seafaring and boatbuilding. As recently as 1972, local shipwrights launched a 99-foot schooner. This tradition continues, though local racing boats are now no bigger than 28 feet.
The main road took us through the valley, a village with four banks for those with offshore needs, and the Wallblake Plantation House, which has been preserved since 1787 and recalls the early English colonists' efforts to get rich. They would be defeated by poor, dry soil, but one of their crops, sea island cotton, would reach South Carolina and turn Southern planters into the wealthiest men in colonial America.
East of the valley stretch acres of low, prickly vegetation. After a sharp turn at Sandy Hill, a wild beach opens up-it was all ours, a bright blue sea rimmed by white rows of distant breakers.
These wild strands have always been Anguilla's main attraction, and even now, despite resorts taking the beaches on the western end, many remain empty and free to roam. In Savannah Junks Hole, the sands run for miles. We watched a family splash happily in the shallow sea protected by fringing reefs.
Captains Bay has a small crescent of soft sand that squeaked like snow between my toes. Sinewy local men cast nets for silvery baitfish that were later sorted out by a boy. Island Harbor was filled with open fishing boats the day we visited, all preparing to deliver spiny lobster, the island's specialty. Scilly Cay, a toy island off the beach, has an informal bar accessible by boat.
Another long stretch of sand in Shoal Bay is backed by the low-key hangouts of island connoisseurs and expats-people who have chucked it all and now say things such as, "Life's a beach, then you dine.
The Caribbean Sea is too rough to allow the exploration of offshore reefs, but Corcoran knew we would find sheltered snorkeling at Prickly Pear Cays, mere dots of remote rocks surrounded by untouched corals. At Prickly Pear East, the reefs to windward are a swimmer's paradise. At the back of the islet's sandy edge, orange and yellow butterflies flit through thick bush, and dark pigeons and buff doves dodge the strong wind under coconut palms. On the rocky shore facing open waters, the swell whistles in subterranean caves.
Corcoran brought Inspiration to anchor in a little hook of sharp limestone, handling the megayacht as if she were a sportfishing machine. His experience having docked in countless super-tight spaces in the Mediterranean was evident at Prickly Pear Cays and throughout the trip, as were his years spent working in hotel management. Inspiration has the smoothest crew operations I have experienced. Each member wanted nothing more than to fulfill any unusual request, which was inconceivable, since they foresaw our needs before we could request anything.
One evening, showers chased us from our favorite table on Inspiration's afterdeck into her formal dining room, which is separate from her saloon. We felt obliged to dress up within her warm palette interior and background of burnished, custom-molded maple. The interior, designed by Marc-Michaels, was featured in Architectural Digest in December 1997, a rare distinction reserved for unique yachts. Wherever you happen to venture aboard, Inspiration exudes subdued refinement enhanced by sofas and chairs from Baker Furniture, delicate touches of kidskin and lambskin from Nancy Corzine, fabrics from Robert Allen and carpeting from Edward Fields. In the main deck saloon, the copper-rimmed fireplace, bookcases and baby grand piano create an exquisitely comfortable ambience.
We were immersed in it as we sat down at the inlaid cherry table and prepared to dine. Newman did not disappoint, serving spatchcock stuffed with baby carrots and leeks, in a red wine jus. The little fowl arrived crisp outside and juicy inside, cooked saignant.
After dinner, we wandered to the afterdeck, where bird voices carried from the cliffs over the calm waters. Loud slaps on the sea surface drew us to watch 5-foot silver-sided tarpon feed, their eyes flashing ruby red in the yacht's floodlights.
Sipping old sherry, gentle piano notes drifting above the show of nature in the raw, we agreed there is no finer yacht to take to the wild side of the Caribbean.