Kingdom Fly-By

From our anchorage in Montserrat we could easily see the fabled and intriguing rock of Redonda, only about ten miles away. It certainly stood out noticeably, but not as a sore thumb. As we walked downhill, along a winding roadway around the jagged peaks, back from our ATM-seeking adventure, we took more photos of Fayaway rolling peacefully at her anchor, again with Redonda looming in the hazy background. From Fayaway’s cockpit, glowing lights eminate from Nevis and St Kitts along the northwestern horizon long after sunset. But always, a dark silhouette just to Nevis’s right beckons further interest. What is this mystical place?

Redonda looming on horizon, seen from anywhere on the west coast of Montserrat.

Haven’t heard of Redonda? Neither had we, until it kept popping up onto our proverbial radar screen, between where we were and where we wanted to be. It was difficult to avoid. In recent parting discussion with a transient cruising friend, regarding our plans to visit Nevis, he instinctively but jokingly warned, “…and don’t run into Redonda!”

We hiked up a grassy, cliffside glade, and whaddayaknow?! Redonda on the horizon!

You may have already started googling about the Kingdom of Redonda, and you can get a broader more lengthy history no doubt that way. Here is my brief synopsis derived of various sources:

Lying between Montserrat and Nevis, in 1872 the English decided this giant (1 mile diameter) rock thickly covered with bird crap was a valuable mining source for phosphates. After it’s hayday of hauling poop, mining operations ceased, and one hundred or so residents abandoned the island in 1914. Unfortunately, the hungry goats and rats that were left behind had rendered the island essentially barren of most vegetation. Wanting to keep control (and presence known) since its independence from the UK, Antigua has since made efforts to clean up the vermin and allow regrowth of trees on the island.

As an aside, a wealthy Irish/Monseratt merchant, Matthew Dowdy Shiell, had six daughters before having a long-awaited son named “M.P.” Since nobody claimed Redonda at this point, Shiell did so in 1865, and bequeathed it to his only son M.P. With ample ceremonial fanfare, probably with much alcohol, M.P. (at age 15) was crowned King of Redonda. Since that time, a few others, some descendents, but others cronies of Antiguan rule, or literary award recipients, have enjoyed their own crowning and ceremonial holding of court. Read one such self-aggrandizing take here.

Here’s how our brief encounter occurred:

We left a few early morning rain clouds behind with Montserrat; Private Little Bay in center.

We endured another mildly wakeful all-night music celebration (traditional Carnival) – even though Kelly and I weren’t interested in participating in their joyous merriment ashore, it still makes me smile to hear so many happy cheering, dancing people. It’s ok to lose a bit of sleep when so many people are having a great time.

Already being awake, we set sail from Little Bay, Montserrat on Saturday at 0700, aiming just to the southwest end of Redonda on a course of 312.

Approaching Redonda by sail – perhaps as seen several hundred years ago.

Easily weighing anchor from the soft sandy bottom, I wheeled Fayaway toward the big rock, and made sail before twenty knots of following breeze. The thousand-foot high rock can’t be missed. Trade winds were very cooperative as they should be this time of year, but blowing lighter on this morning, allowing a milder swell, that also helped push us in the desired direction.

What did we see as we did our fly-by?

One flag we didn’t bother to get… Kingdom of Redonda.

We approached within one mile, offering fairly decent views of the terrain and a house located in a slight valley overlooking cliffs to the south.

Just a big rock, with boobies circling, and an enchanting look from afar. Like gazing at the moon, which we all see so frequently, seemingly familiar, but yet so far, we will likely never set foot there. No matter how longingly we admire the magnificent rock, it just wasn’t going to happen this day.

Within a mile of Redonda.

We glided and rocked, slowly and silently past, undulating swells still pushing us toward our final destination of Nevis. As the noon hour passed, the waves built a bit more, hastening us further away, as though the island was mocking us, saying, you missed your chance!

Building wind and waves moved us west, beyond the Redonda’s shadow.
Mystical Kingdom of Redonda as seen across wild meadow grass, in the subdued trade winds from Montserrat

Even though we missed our chance this time, we keep the fairy-tale alive by continually seeking out more new and interesting places to visit, and meeting new people along the way. Today we met a man Windgrove working the beach nearby where Fayaway was anchored. He approached us as we walked upon the area where he rented paddle boards and other water toys. We explained that we were visitors, simply exploring the area. After about an hour of pleasant discussion of the area’s historic significance, and what our respective families were doing this day (it’s Christmas Day), we ended by feeling as though we have a new friendship with someone born and raised here.

Merry Christmas!

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