Voyage of Traveler / Blog

February 28, 2010

Traveler Postcard From the US Virgin Islands

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 9:32 am

Hi, Everyone,

We had two great weeks in the US Virgin Islands, although much of our time in “the American Paradise” (as they like to be called) was spent on boat repairs.

The Top Ten Highlights:

1.  Clearing back into the USofA.  Homeland Security actually looked good, especially compared to some of the unprofessional customs and immigration officers we have had to deal with around the world.  And Yansen got to use his US Visa!

2.  My sister Melissa, her husband Charlie, and their 15-year old daughter Eliza visited us here for a week.  It was good to have them back on board Traveler, and they were thankful to escape the winter storms back home in New Hampshire.  This was Melissa’s third week-long visit during the  voyage.  With my son Brian, daughter Kellie, crew Yansen, and me, we had a full house.

3.  St. John.  This island is the unspoiled gem of the USVIs.  Two-thirds of the island is protected in the US Virgin Islands National Park, most of that a gift from Lawrence Rockefeller in 1956.  We hiked along a forested trail to a gorgeous beach lined with coconut palms for a swim in 78 degree water. Nice.  We then spent the night at anchor at Little Lameshur Bay and, a week later, another night at anchor at Coral Bay with Melissa, Charlie and Eliza.  Way cool.

4.  The St. Thomas Yacht Club.  The members, staff (especially the GM Bill Canfield), bartenders, dock crew, the facilities, all very nice.  They made us feel so welcomed.  And it was fun to watch the Olympics on the TV in the bar.

5.  Our overnight anchorage at Honeymoon Cove on Water Island, and taking the dinghy ashore at sunset to listen to guitarist Eric Stone perform.  The next morning included a walk around the island and dinghying around the cove, followed by snorkeling on an old ship wreck just ten feet deep.  Water Island is just south of the St. Thomas capital of Charlotte Amalie (pronounced ‘amalia’).

6.  Swimming and walking along the beach at sunset at Magen’s Bay on the north shore of St. Thomas.  It is consistently voted by travel writers as one of the top beaches in the world, and we had the place (almost) to ourselves.

7.  Getting our new water heater!  We have been without one and taking cold showers since December 1 when we were on the Atlantic crossing and the old one, still under warranty, failed.  I just had to pay for shipping. And I installed it myself.

8.  Watching the world’s newest and largest cruise ship, the Oasis of the Seas, arrive at dawn and dock at Crown Bay, just a few boat lengths away from us.  What a monster!  5,000 passengers!

9.  Engine and other boat repairs here included: a nasty exhaust leak (the third time) on the Yanmar engine, the Yamaha 8hp outboard impeller for the water pump failed, the spare Yamaha 2.5hp engine had a dirty carburetor, and the DSB 8-man emergency life raft had a factory recall (the auto-inflation system was defective–good thing we didn’t need it!)  All of the above were costly repairs, to be sure.  But I’m thankful we were in a place that had competent mechanics, and they spoke English!

10.  Visiting the castle of Bluebeard, the famous pirate who made is home here.  Charlotte Amalie was a free port with a no-questions-asked trade policy, making it the favorite place for the real life pirates of the Caribbean to come and sell their booty, and then do what pirates do best.  Arrrrrgh!

Did you know the three main islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix (pronounced ‘croy’) used to belong to Denmark?  When the slaves were freed in 1848 the lucrative sugar industry slowly declined over the next sixty years to the point where the Danish crown decided to sell the group of islands.  America’s need to protect the approaches to the Panama Canal (opened in 1914) coupled with the threat of German naval activity in the Caribbean in WWI prompted the US to purchase the Danish Virgins in 1917 for $25 million, about $300 per acre, considered a huge amount of money back then.  As a US territory, initially, the island was run by the US Navy and the governor was appointed by the president.  Since 1968 the islanders have been allowed to elect their own governor.  The islanders are US citizens but, oddly, cannot vote for president and pay no federal income taxes (but the local income taxes match the federal rates.)

Next stop: The Spanish Virgin Islands of Culebra and Vieques, and Puerto Rico.

Living the Dream,
and Team Traveler

February 14, 2010

Traveler Postcard From the BVIs

February 13, 2010

Hi, Everyone,

We just cleared out with Customs and Immigration for the British Virgin Islands after five fabulous days here.  Columbus discovered the archipelago, as with so many other islands in the Caribbean, on his second voyage in 1493.  He saw countless islands, all uninhabited, and named them “Las Once Mil Las Virgins” after the legendary St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins. The Brits annexed the BVIs in 1672, and they’ve British ever since.

Virgin Gorda. The island was dubbed the ‘Fat Virgin’ by Columbus because of its shape.  We arrived at dawn and started out the day at 0700 by picking up a mooring at The Baths National Park for a couple of hours or so, but we liked it so much we spent the whole day there.  If you haven’t been there, imagine a tropical beach with huge rounded granite boulders piled high along the water’s edge, creating interesting caves and passages to explore and tide pools for swimming. We highly recommend The Baths for a memorable day at the beach.  The next day we motor sailed up to the north easterly tip of the island to the Bitter End Yacht Club, the yachting haven for the Virgins.  This yacht club has it all: fun bars and restaurants, live entertainment, dive shop, junior sailing program, dozens of moorings for visiting yachts, laundry services, a well-stocked market and a gift shop.  I bought a souvenir hat, of course (I have quite the hat collection going, from all over the world.)

Salt Island.  This island is famous for diving the wreck of the HMS Rhone, a modern (when she sank 142 years ago), luxury British mail ship powered by both steam and sail.  She blew a boiler trying to outrun a hurricane.  124 men drowned with only a few survivors, even though the ship went down just 100 yards from shore.  Dive magazines rank it as one of the top five or ten wreck dives in the world and the best in the Caribbean.  Kellie and I did a dive on our own, without a guide, using our own tanks and dive gear.  This is the wreck where the 1977 movie The Deep with Jacqueline Bisset and Nick Nolte was filmed.  It is now the home to many tropical fish, eels and lobster, and covered in gorgeous soft and hard corals.

Norman Island. At The Bight, a well-protected natural harbor, we picked up a mooring for the night then went ashore for a pirate-themed happy hour.  No worries, mate.  We had an $18 rum drink called a ‘painkiller’ served out of a bright orange child’s plastic beach bucket.  ARRRRGH! The highlight for this island was exploring the Pirate Caves by dinghy late in the afternoon, after all the day-trippers had left and we had the popular place to ourselves.  The two caves are quite deep, going back maybe 40 yards or so, and turn 90 degrees to the right after the entrance, so you need a flash light (which we had) to see the cave’s walls and ceiling.  And all the while the surge is gently pushing the dinghy around in the eerie darkness.  Double ARRRRRGH!

Tortola.  We stopped at Road Town, the capital of the BVIs, for lunch and a look around, then cruised on up to Cane Garden Bay.  We had a good time listening to some live entertainment as the sunset lit the sky with pink and purple colors, looking out at about 30 boats bobbing on their moorings in the bay. Brian and Kellie went back ashore after dinner, met some other yachties their age and had more fun until the wee hours.

Jost Van Dyke.  This is the only island I know of that is named after a pirate.  Van Dyke, based out of this strategically located island, was so successful raiding Spanish galleons on their way from Santo Domingo back to Spain that he founded a colony here.  The island today has only about 500 residents and no paved roads.  It does have one very popular bar: Foxy’s, on the beach at the island’s only village, Great Harbour.  We also spent some time exploring on the neighboring islet called Sandy Cay, and Brian and Yansen went surfing on a head-high north swell kicked up by a winter storm in the far away north Atlantic.

We loved the BVIs, and easily see how it got the reputation of being one of the best cruising destinations in the world.

Next stop, the US Virgin Islands, where Yansen gets to use his US visa.  He is pumped up.

Living the Dream,
with Kellie, Brian and Yansen

February 12, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Saba

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 6:52 pm

February 12, 2009

Hi, Everyone,

Last week we were in Saba, part of the Netherlands Antilles, for only seven hours.  Barbara calls that “Touch and Go Cruising.”  But better to see it than skip it, I say.  I mentioned it briefly in an earlier Postcard, but want to share with you a few more things about Saba (pronounced Say-ba).

The island is tiny, only 5 sq miles, and volcanic.  The volcano is extinct now, with the last eruption 5,000 years ago, so there is much vegetation covering its steep cliffs, with portions like a tropical rain forest.  The mountain peak is called Mount Scenery, and at 887 m (about 2,700 ft) it is the highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  The island has a population of 1,300, plus 500 medical students at the Saba University School of Medicine (established in 1992.)

The island was discovered by Columbus on his second voyage, but he found it too mountainous, too small, and with no natural harbor.  So he claimed it for Spain without ever landing on it, and sailed on.  The nearby Saba Bank, just 6 nm to the SW, and 90 sq miles in size, is one of the best fishing grounds in the Caribbean, and fishing has always been the primary industry.  The island still has no hotels, just a few guest cottages–and they are very charming.

There are two villages.  One is called The Bottom, located at the bottom of the volcanic crater.  The other is called Windwardside, located on, you guessed it, the eastern slope of the Mount Scenery, where it gets a good steady breeze year around from the trade winds.  In 1972 a man-made harbor was built to accommodate small ships and ferry boats–but way too small for a cruise ship.  Up until that year, when a ship would come with a delivery, it was off loaded at sea onto 20 ft wooden row boats, which somehow managed to safely–most of the time, anyway–beach themselves on the rocky shore.  Lumber was usually just thrown overboard and then gathered up on the rocky coast as it drifted ashore.  Everything imported was then transported on the backs of human porters by hiking up a steep 800-step stairway from the shore to The Bottom. In 1925, finally, a donkey was imported to help transport the goods. The first airplane landed on the island in 1959 on a dirt field that was leveled by hand tools. It has since been improved, but is still a short runway.

The island is getting a well-deserved reputation as one of the great dive sites on the planet.  I really enjoyed our guided dive with my daughter Kellie and my son Brian.  Then, with Yansen, we took a taxi up the Road They Said Couldn’t Be Built–that is really the name of the road, but the locals just call it The Road, for short.  The Road took 20 years to build, completed in 1958, after a local fisherman took a correspondence class on civil engineering.  It was constructed with local labor using hand tools, and is an amazing accomplishment because of the rugged terrain.

There is no running water in either of the two villages.  Each home or business collects rain from the roof and channels it through rain gutters to a private cistern for that property.

The villages have kept the island’s architecture traditional, and it is very charming, with red roofs, storm shutters and stone fireplaces–used for cooking, not heating.  Electricity was finally added to the island in 1970.  Before that, it was candles and oil lamps after sunset.

Pretty amazing place, Saba.  Glad we stopped here, even if it was a “touch and go.”

For more information:

Living the Dream,
with Kellie, Brian and Yansen

February 10, 2010

Traveler Postcard from St. Martin, Anguilla and St. Barts

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 9:04 am

February 10, 2010

Hi, Everyone,
We are now in Virgin Gorda, the BVIs, which I’ll cover in my next Postcard. But I want to share with you now the three islands that we visited last week.

Feb. 1 - 5 Sint Maartin/St-Martin
We sailed 32nm north from Statia to Sint Maartin and dropped the hook in Simpson Bay.  The island was discovered by Columbus while on his second voyage on St. Martin’s Day in 1493.

This is the smallest island (90 sq km) in the world shared by two countries, France and the Netherlands.  The southerly two-fifths is Sint Maartin, known as the Dutch side.  The northerly three-fifths is St-Martin, known as the French side.  The two sides have a different language, currency, flags, laws and police.  The border was drawn following a walking race in 1648 between a Frenchman and a Dutchman.  The race began at Oyster Pond on the east coast, a small bay the two decided would be best shared.  The Frenchman, with a bottle of brandy, walked north, counterclockwise, along the coast, while the Dutchman, with a bottle of gin, walked south, clockwise. Despite the more rugged terrain in the northerly half, the Frenchman covered more ground.  They met on the west coast of the island at Long Bay.  Since then the division of the island was never questioned and the two countries have lived peacefully as neighbors, with their two flags fluttering side by side in the same breeze for over three centuries.

My daughter, Kellie (age 23), flew in here to re-join the Traveler crew, and plans to be with Yansen, her brother Brian and me for at least a couple of months.

It was very rolly the first two nights at anchor out in the bay, so we paid the $35 bridge fee and passed through the raised drawbridge to spend the third and fourth nights in the still waters of the lagoon.  In the outer bay you can swim off the boat, which is nice.  But the water in the lagoon is a little too polluted to swim or make water with the watermaker.

Lots of mega yachts, power and sail, here.  This is, they say, the yachting Mecca of the Eastern Caribbean.  Lots of fun, yacht-friendly bars, with full dinghy docks and $1 beers for happy hour.

We stood with a crowd of tourists on the beach at the downwind end of the airport’s runway.  The beach bar there posts the arrival times on a chalkboard.  The huge jets passed just overhead before landing, giving quite a thrill.

We also enjoyed Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side.  They have the most charming two hundred year-old courthouse, which I thought at first must be a museum, but it is still the only courthouse on the Dutch side.  I sat on a wooden pew in a courtroom to see how they do things here.  Quite differently.  A criminal trial was going on, in Dutch, with no jury, but instead with three judges.  The judges and attorneys all wore fancy robes and wigs.

We dinghied north across the lagoon to the French side for lunch and to walk around Marigot, the capital and largest city on the French side. After a nice (expensive!) lunch at a waterfront cafe, we bought some spices from an open air market, then hiked up to Fort St. Louis for a look around.

Feb. 5.  Anguilla.  We exited the Simpson Bay Lagoon when the draw bridge opened at 0900 and motor sailed first up to have lunch and snorkel at Happy Bay on the French side of St-Martin, and then across the narrow channel, only 5nm, to the neighboring island of Anguilla, a British Dependent Territory.

Laid-back Anguilla seems the last place on earth to have a revolution. But in 1967, when the British decided to de-colonize their Caribbean possessions and lump Anguilla in with St. Kitts and Nevis, the Anguillans didn’t want that to happen and staged a surprising, successful revolution AGAINST their independence.   The Anguillans rounded up a small detachment of St. Kitts policemen and simply deported them, rolling out an antique cannon to the beach and shouting for them to never return.  Word of this insult traveled slowly, and the British government, embarrassingly out of touch, sent armed paratroopers to their colony to put down the ‘uprising,’ a full two years later!  They were greeted by the delighted locals, waving the British flag and cheering “Hip, hip, hooray!” and “God save the Queen!”  The London press dubbed the fiasco Britain’s Bay of Piglets.

The beaches on Anguilla are incredible, the best we’ve seen anywhere on the planet. And the snorkeling is excellent, too.  We enjoyed a sight-seeing taxi-ride tour of the island, a happy hour at the Resort at Shoal Bay and then picked up some barbecue chicken and ribs at a popular roadside stand to take back to Traveler for dinner.

Feb. 6.  We sailed to St. Barts, but made two stops along the way.  The first was back on the French side of St-Martin at Orient Bay, the world famous nude beach.  With Traveler at anchor off the beach, Brian and I kayaked along the water’s edge.  About ten minutes of that is all you need to say you’ve ‘been there, done that.’  We were soon back on Traveler, headed back to St. Barts,  but made a second stop at a small horseshoe-shaped island that is a Marine Reserve.  Here we picked up a mooring, went snorkeling again and barbecued lunch, then made the final three miles to Gustavia, St. Barts.  Arriving just in time to see a spectacular sunset from Shell Beach, we then walked through the charming, upscale, mostly-restored town until we found Le Select.  This is the popular restaurant and bar known for their Cheeseburgers In Paradise, made famous by Jimmy Buffet.  There is a photo of Jimmy playing guitar on the small stage at the bar there–what a great place to see him perform in concert!  Of course, we had a few beers and a couple of the cheeseburgers, which were disappointingly modest, but the lively scene was memorable.  We found St. Barts to be much like a Caribbean version of St. Tropez.

Living the Dream,
with Kellie, Brian and Yansen

February 8, 2010

Traveler Postcard–Night Passage

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 9:10 am

February 8, 2010
Caribbean Sea

It is 0400, I just finished a hot cup of coffee, and I’m on watch by myself.  Yansen, Brian and Kellie are off watch and sleeping.  We are on an 80-mile overnight passage between tiny Saba in the NE Caribbean and the British Virgin Islands, with 21nm to go. Everything is working well–it is a rarity when there is nothing that needs fixing or replacing (knock on wood.)  Brian, Yansen and I cleaned the bottom and varnished the grab rails a couple of days ago, and Traveler is in great shape.

The sailing conditions are nearly perfect.  The wind is at 15 knots on the port beam, a rare southerly.  I’m sailing with a full main and a slight reef in the jib on a beam reach doing 7.5 knots.  The seas are comfortable, too, at one to two feet and following.

The moon just rose out of the east, right on my stern.  It is a very thin sliver of a moon, but my eyes are so adjusted to the darkness that it seems bright, and it is lighting up my wake like a silver highway.  The gentle motion of Traveler through the water is just enough to light up the ocean with phosphorescence.  And every so often I see a meteor falling.  It is a beautiful night at sea.

The lights of the Virgin Islands loom ahead in the distance, and I can make out a light house now.  There is a mega-yacht slowing overtaking me about a quarter mile off my port side, and I can see the lights of a cruise ship about two miles off my port bow.

Yesterday was a great day for us.  Kellie, Brian and I went for a tank dive with a guide on Saba, one of the top ten dive spots on the planet.  We saw fabulous corals and tons of gorgeous fish, including a rare sea horse.  This is the first time in seven years that I have been diving with both Kellie and Brian (Scott was also with us then in Hawaii following the ‘03 Transpac.) After our dive, with Yansen, we all went for a taxi-ride tour of the island, up “The road they said couldn’t be built” because of the steep cliffs and rugged terrain.  It took twenty years to complete “The Road”–very interesting.

Today looks like it will be another great day.  We plan on spending the morning on a mooring at The Baths, exploring around the amazing boulders and snorkeling after breakfast.  Then we will check in at Virgin Gorda Harbor, walk around the town and re-provision.

It is great cruising with my kids, at least two of them.  I’m missing Barbara, but she will be re-joining me the first week of April during her spring break for the San Blas Islands and to transit the Panama Canal.

All’s well on Traveler.  Life is good.

Living the Dream
with Kellie, Brian and Yansen

February 1, 2010

Traveler Postcard From St. Kitts and Nevis, and Statia

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 10:28 am

February 1, 2010
On passage to St. Martin

Hi, Everyone,

The past few days we have been moving fast, with one night each on the Lesser Antilles’ Leeward Islands of Nevis, St. Kitts and then Statia (also known by the Dutch name of as Sint Eustatius), and we are now on our way to St. Martin.

Nevis, January 29.  This was the first of two islands in the country of St. Kitts and Nevis, which gained its independence from Britain in 1983.  We took a mooring off the Four Seasons Resort, but quickly saw that it was closed. We thought at first it was the victim of the recession, but we learned it has been closed for a few years after suffering major damage from a hurricane.  It was a full moon, and many students from a nearby veterinary school were on the beach having a Jump Up (Caribbean term for a beach party with either a band or DJ and dancing.)  Brian took the dinghy in to check it out, had some fun, and partied until the wee hours.

The British first colonized Nevis in 1628, but a huge earthquake destroyed the coastal village known as Jamestown in 1680 and it disappeared under the sea.  In the 18th century the British built Fort Charleston, and under its guns it remained British and prospered with rich plantations.  In 1757, one of the future fathers of the USA, Alexander Hamilton, was born in Charleston.  But the last sugar plantation closed in 1930, and with it the island’s economy slowly declined.  Over the past ten years, the population has dwindled from 14,000 to 10,000.

St. Kitts, January 30.  When we arrived the wind was up a bit, gusting to 25 knots.  So rather than anchor we went into the marina and paid for a berth.  It was nice to use the fresh water on the dock to wash the boat and fill our two water tanks (234 gallons).  The residents in capital of Basseterre were thrilled with their Labor Party candidate’s re-election as Prime Minister, and were celebrating with a raucous horn-honking motorcade parade around the island and a free outdoor concert.  Brian saw some of the people he met the night before at the Jump Up on Nevis and joined them in the back seat of a Mustang convertible for the ride around town.  The concert music was loud, near our boat in the marina, and played on until 2am.  While the neighboring island of Nevis is struggling economically, St. Kitts enjoys relative prosperity largely due to the cruise ships stopping there.  As we departed, two ships arrived.

Columbus discovered the island in 1493 and gave it his own name.  (The island is also known as St. Christopher.)  In 1629 the Spanish brutally marched across the island killing the native Caribs and pushing the few survivors into the sea to drown, burning their villages.  Later, the British and French allied to defeat the Spanish, then fought over the island amongst themselves.  After the Battle of the Saints and the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the island became and has remained British. The distinctive red mailboxes and phone booths that you know from London are found all around St. Kitts, and cricket is the national sport.

Statia, January 31.  This tiny Dutch colony played a key roll in the United States’ battle for independence.  Cannons, rifles, gun powder, and other supplies were transported under Dutch-flagged ships from Amsterdam to Statia, and then on to the States.  On November 16, 1776, the “Andrew Doria,” one of the first ships in the US Navy and flying the flag of the newly-formed United States of America, arrived at Fort Oranje, Statia.  The fort’s commander fired a salute, making Statia the first foreign county to recognize the United States and conduct trade with her.

Brian and I walked through the historic fort, which has been well-restored, and tried to imagine what it would have been like to live back in those times.  We then hiked up to the spectacular crater rim of the island’s volcano, known as the Quill, about 1900 ft. high and covered in lush vegetation.  It’s rugged natural wonders reminded us of a scene from Jurassic Park.  Along the trail we met a cruising couple, Mike and Kate, from Canada on a boat called Mud Kat.   They were nice to share a bottle of water with us, and we met them later that night for a pot luck dinner and mai tais on their boat.

At 0800 the next morning, we slipped the mooring lines and headed for Simpson Bay, St. Martin, 32 nm north, where my daughter, Kellie, will be re-joining Traveler for a few months.

Living the Dream,
with Brian and Yansen

Traveler Postcard From the Kingdom of Redonda

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 8:14 am


On January 29, 2010, Michael Lawler, an attorney from Newport Beach, California, invaded the tiny Caribbean island of Redonda, claimed the island for himself, and immediately appointed himself to be the King of Redonda.

Lawler, age 56, is nearing the end of his three-year around the world cruise on his 47-foot sailboat, “Traveler.” He is currently cruising the West Indies with his 21-year old son, Brian Lawler, and his Indonesian crew member, Yansen, age 28.

Redonda, only 2 sq km, is not only uninhabited, it is practically uninhabitable. Only sea birds live there.  The island is a wild place surrounded by steep cliffs, rising to nearly 1000 feet, with waves breaking on the rocky shoreline and lacks a harbor, beach or safe anchorage.  This makes it nearly impossible to even go ashore.  Yet Lawler managed to land on Redonda, possibly the first person to do so in many years. With Yansen aboard Traveler motoring in slow circles nearby, Lawler launched his kayak and paddled close to the shore with his son, Brian.  The sea conditions were too rough to take the kayak ashore, so he swam the last 100 feet and scrambled up the rocks between the breaking waves.

Once ashore, Lawler took possession of the islet, proclaimed himself King of Redonda and raised his royal banner, a red, white and blue striped flag. Lawler also pronounced that his son, Brian, was to carry the title of Prince of Redonda, and as such is the future heir to the throne.

The island was discovered by Columbus on his second voyage in 1493.  Although Columbus never actually landed there, he called it Santa Maria de Redonda (St. Mary the Round) and claimed it for the Spanish Crown.  However, Spain later abandoned the claim, apparently because they had no use for it.  In 1865 the British Navy, again without going ashore, surprised the Caribbean community and claimed Redonda.  When Great Britain allowed Antigua and Barbuda to be self-governing in 1967, they threw in Redonda, not knowing what else to do with the islet.  However, the government of Antigua and Barbuda has ignored the islet and, for all practical purposes, has abandoned it. It is believed that no one from Antigua and Barbuda has ever even set foot on Redonda.

A few miners from Montserrat, nine miles to the south, are the only persons known to have ever lived there, although briefly, and that was back in 1865.  They built one small shack that has somehow survived several hurricanes over the past 150 years.  Over the door of that shack is a weather beaten sign that says “Redonda Post Office.”

In 1865 an Irishman from Montserrat, Matthew Dowdy Shiel, poking fun at the British for taking claim to Redonda, claimed the island for himself and made his infant son, Matthew Phipps Shiel, the King of Redonda in a ceremony purportedly carried out on the island by a bishop. In 1927 Matthew Phipps Shiel, then a minor author of fantasy novels, launched a new book with the announcement that he was, indeed, the King of Redonda, and the London press played it up. This gave the otherwise unheard of island an international splash of notoriety.  The royal history gets a little foggy after that.

At one time there were four claimants to the throne. One “King” (Juan I, aka Jon Gawsworth), a colorful resident of London with a bit of a drinking problem, would grant knighthoods to people who would buy him a pint. In 2007, the Wellington Arms, a pub in Southampton, declared themselves an embassy of the Kingdom of Redonda in order to gain diplomatic immunity from a ban on indoor smoking.

For the past decade, Bob Williamson (or as he preferred, King Bob the Bald) held court in the waterfront bars of Antigua surrounded by his knights (drinking buddies) and navy (one derelict sailboat).  But his recent death, without an heir to throne, has opened the door for someone else to carry on the royal tradition.

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