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Billy Folly

Billy Folly, Sint Maarten

I BRING THE dinghy into Palapa Marina dinghy dock cutting the engine early, drifting the last few feet on a light following breeze. I padlock the steel cable to the rail, grab my backpack and step out onto the quayside. I’m the first of our group at Vesna Taverna for our regular Sunday morning breakfast but our usual table and all the other tables are taken.

I turn around and sit at the outside bar under a palm tree and take out my notepad and pen to start some kind of to-do list for the day. Instead, I start to sketch a redesign for the layout of Glee. Mike walks in, barefoot as usual. I wonder how he deals with the shards of glass along the side of the road. His soles must be like leather. I can barely walk along gravel without impersonating a chicken. I stuff my things back into the bag and join him at the bar just as Jaco and Johan from Atlantech Divers roll up and we quickly grab our regular table now that it had been vacated. Mason from Out of Africa arrives as we are about to order and we set about simply enjoying each other’s company in a shared meal.

Mason and Mike have so much to say, I end up listening in fascination most of the time.  In this new world, I know nothing. How can these people know so much? Boat life is perfect for reading and working stuff out. Our vessels are little sanctuaries of peace, study and tranquillity.  Glee still needs some work but is patiently waiting for the end of my ‘non-doing’ phase. There is a dilemma here that work is going to cost while leisure is free; it’s the opposite of having a ‘job’ where work usually means income.

Our two-hour breakfast quickly passes and I ponder what to do for the three hours before the Mexican Train Dominoes starts at Little Jerusalem. I hadn’t played it before but I heard the game broadcast on the VHF Radio Net for cruisers around the lagoon. Besides, it’s an opportunity to make new contacts.

Mike points East down Airport Road and suggests exploring the road to the South that turns right past Burger King. Tick, next… that will be at least an hour taken care of.

It’s hot along the roadside and the shops and cafes both shield the breeze and trap the Sun’s heat and I feel the sweat building between my back, t-shirt and Cabin Max backpack. This bag was designed for airport restrictions, not hiking in the tropics.

In the shade at the Burger King Junction. My cheap and cheerful tourist map shows either that the road loops around the shore in an elongated circuit or fizzles out indeterminately. When I look around, I see one road that veers off at thirty degrees South of East and another that seems to turn back on itself to the South West, which has to be the one that follows the shore further down.

These thin soled deck shoes are not made for walking but Mike’s bare feet return to mind. These will do nicely. The road winds around and up and down quaint palm tree fringed resorts, cafes and casinos. The resorts and time-shares hint toward retirement homes rather than holiday accommodation. People must come here for relaxation rather than activity.  It’s a different feel to the main drag through Simpson Bay.


A green iguana and I startle each other and it races off down the sidewalk with its comedy waddling gait along the foot of a wall looking for cover, by the time I take out my camera, it’s barely visible beneath the palm tree on the lawn around the end of the wall. I rest for 5 minutes removing my pack and cap to cool down.

There’s a whisper of a breeze, which is faintly heard in the palm fronds in this neighbourhood. I get a glance from a man in a small white Hyundai as he approaches the junction and turns left and up the hill. It must look as if I’m waiting for a lift or burglary or something. There’s no-one around and nothing at this junction apart from private apartments and time-shares, gleaming white in their immaculate paint under the tropical sun showing off closely cropped lawns.

I stride economically up the hill in the wake of the white Hyundai and in the dappled shade of the palm trees feeling no cooler than before. I turn right continuing uphill to the peak of Billy Folly. There’s nobody on the streets, cars are in drives and wrought iron gates with security intercoms are closed.

The road is steep and eventually, the surface changes to a shale track and starts to level out through shrubs and short trees but there are no signs or gates restricting access. At the end of the track is a turning area, service building and storage tank. It appears to be a dead end. A finely worn groove hints a clue that the route to the peak skirts a twenty-metre diameter holding tank and between some overgrown shrubs. Before I know it I’m on top of a slab of white pumice presented fully to the fifteen-knot cooling easterly trade wind and a perfect view of the island from Cole Bay to Anguilla, nine miles North of St Martin. To the south is an expanse of royal blue ocean flecked with flashing white horses leading to a faint outline of the luxurious island of Saint Bartholemew.

The view is strikingly beautiful. I can see the whole of the lagoon,  the giant yachts in the lagoon marinas below me, Glee, in miniature, at the foot of Mount Fortune just over the causeway, Marigot and Fort Loius beyond, the white buildings of Anguilla toward the horizon and the giant blue KLM 747 over at Princess Julianna Airport preparing for its departure for Amsterdam. An unexpected pleasure on this Sunday… what time is it?

After taking some pictures I make my way back down the hill, I wasn’t expecting this outing so I didn’t have any water with me. I feel hot and tired as I start to dehydrate. I slow a little and distract myself with the scenery. Twenty minutes later I’m perched on a stool at the Buccaneer Beach Bar and order a glass of iced water and a bottle of Presidente lager. No rush.

Manchester City are playing Manchester United on the flat screen behind the bar; echoes of a former existence. The faces of the football fans look milky white in the colourless gloom of the long British winter. Twelfth of January I left the UK but it seems like a year. I’d packed light for a two-month air-conditioned stay in Houston and I look incongruous in salt-stained deck shoes, heavy jeans and navy t-shirt. I’m hot and in need of some shorts and sandals.

Downing the water, I suck on the ice cubes and think of Debbie; of our summer travels around the southern counties of England and our winter escapes in Egypt. As beautiful as this location is, it loses some of its lustre without the sharing of it. I see someone approach out of the corner of my eye. Moving my backpack off the stool, a man sits next to me with a nod of thanks. I nod back but we don’t speak. Instead, I watch the beer bottle sweat the tropical condensation and reflect on times past and times to come…


I sip at my beer as he half watches the football over the top of a bar menu, I guessed it must be lunchtime and quietly finish my beer, don my cap and backpack and shuffle along the soft sandy beach like some sort of displaced time traveller…

I’m late for the Dominoes…

Thought for the day: You can’t really plan for adventure since adventure lives in the ‘not yet known,’ which means having to overcome the fear of uncertainty.  Embracing uncertainty is the route to the life you dream of and all its treasures along the way.

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