Sea Dog Blog

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Tony Snell and The Spitfire Troubadour

Cover of Spitfire TroubadoreIt is with great sadness to learn of Tony Snell's recent passing at the age of 91. What a man was he! Tony, and his wife Jackie (who passed in 2001) were the owners of the Last Resort Restaurant and Bar on Bellamy Cay in the British Virgin Islands.Yes, that Last Resort where Tony entertained with his guitar, harmonica and piano, writing his own music and words that kept the whole island in laughter! Who else would have thought to train their dogs to sing along with him? And, of course,there was the donkey that had its own open window to the restaurant so that the diners could give it a taste of what Jackie had prepared for their guests. He was an amazing man!

Tony and Jackie have a son, Jeremy, and a daughter, Jessica. Jessica and her husband Ben have been running The Last Resort for the last few years with Tony as the guest entertainer. They will continue to keep the restaurant open with delicious meals and drinks on the small island of Bellamay Cay.

Our condolences to the family. Tony will be forever in our thoughts.

In his book Spitfire Troubadour, Tony recounts, in his own irreverent style, his early years in RAF flying Spitfires during the second world war. He was shot down, captured, and put in front of a firing squad, but escaped to fly again. He went on to spend ten years as an actor in London, South Africa and the USA where he traveled around the country in an old bus that was later rented to Charles Manson. Needless to say they never saw the bus again. Back in the UK and anxious for more adventure, he set sail in a small catamaran for Spain. The following year he married Jackie and they sailed to the West Indies to start a charter fleet. When the boats were sold they started The Last Resort and the rest is history!

To read his fascinating obituary, click here.


The Boat Builders of The Virgin Islands

Boat Building sketch

Long before the emancipation of 1834, the Virgin Islands emerged as one of the major boat building centers in the Caribbean. Africans, both free and enslaved, honed the skills of boat building, unique skills no doubt learned from the 18th century Navy and passed on, not through any formal process but by word of mouth. By the mid 1800’s, largely as a result of the imposition of a controversial “Cattle Tax”, riots broke out across the islands, plantations were burned and many residents, including the administration, fled to other neighboring islands, leaving the inhabitants to fend for themselves.

Motivated to build a sustainable economy, the communities, utilizing natural skill sets, turned to charcoalHistoric photo sloop production, farming for ground provisions, cattle ranching and boatbuilding for economic survival. The need to transport cattle and produce for trade with other islands, drove the need and expansion of an expert boat building industry. Specializing in small light craft that were ideal for the sheltered waters of the Virgins the “Tortola Boat” as it was called, became the life-blood of the emerging economy. These sailing craft were purchased both by local farmers and businessmen, needing to transport goods to neighboring St. Thomas in order to supplement income, and by residents and farmers of other neighboring islands. The sloops enabled the BVI to become a major supplier of cattle and produce to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The typical Tortola Sloop was built of local white cedar (the BVI’s national tree) about 20’ in length with a moveable rock ballast, generous overhangs fore and aft and a mast and boom of about the same length as BVI stampthe boat with a “leg-of-mutton” sail-plan. These unique local craft transported cattle and ground produce until the need for fresh meat was gradually impacted by the introduction of refrigerated warehousing, after which their use continued mainly to ferry passengers between neighboring islands. The vessels, largely unchanged from their original design, were built and launched with regularity through the 1970’s when, as a consequence of economic development, the advent of small motorized craft and the need to respond to the growing demands of the tourist trade, the building of the original sloop came to an end. Local builders evolved the design to better accommodate a large outboard motor for use as fishing boats. The mast and rig disappeared and finally the hand-built hulls, often seen under construction beneath a crude tin roof by the water’s edge, were replaced with more cost-effective fiberglass hulls.

Today there are very few Tortola Sloops remaining and only two are still actively sailing. In an effort to preserve both the integrity of design and building heritage two distinctly different preservation initiatives are underway. The H. Lavity Stoutt Community College at East End, Tortola, control the two remaining sailing vessels and are active in bringing both funding and awareness to sloop heritage.

On Jost Van Dyke behind Foxy’s Beach Bar, the Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society is building a modernBoat Building Under Cover version of the Tortola Boat, the Endeavour II in an effort to advance environmental stewardship among the youth of the BVI. The Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society is a non-profit agency dedicated to the preservation of the history, culture and the natural environment of Jost Van Dyke. The immediate goal is to launch Endeavour II by December of 2013 and to accomplish this they need the support of fellow sailors to raise the estimated $45,000 needed to finish outfitting. Once launched, the Endeavour II will be used as a sail training program for the youth of the BVI and to support and house environmental education programs that the Preservation Society has offered since 2009.

Please take a minute to visit the JVDPS website to follow the progress of the building of Endeavour II and explore various projects under its stewardship. The program to date has largely been funded by charitable donations from visiting yachtsmen, local businesses and volunteers. If you wish to join us in the support of this project, the following link to the non-profit, tax-deductible site is noted below.

Links and downloads:

Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society - seal

Read the Article by Executive Director Susan Zaluski - A Mighty Endeavour (Something old becomes something new on Jost Van Dyke).

For further information on this project or information regarding donations, call Bruce Donath at 617-974-1368 or email 


Visit and sign-up for the Preservation Society newsletter and learn more about the scope of the programs to educate the youth and protect the local environment for future generations


With your help, the Preservation Society is mobilizing sailing advocates to complete the Jost Van Dyke Endeavour project and support ongoing environmental educational programs  (

Sketch, Tortola Sloop





Cruising Guides in the age of Google. Still Relevant?

Over the last 12 months or so, numerous sailors, planning a Caribbean charter, have called or emailed us to ask if a Cruising Guide is still necessary considering there would be a chart plotter aboard the boat. This in turn got us to thinking about the role that cruising guides play in the current environment of the Web, cruising blogs, chart plotters, GPS and electronic charting. There are three distinct phases to consider in this regard:

Planning the Cruise

Customer research tells us that the typical Caribbean charter party, consider the planning and preparation of the cruise to be 50% of the overall enjoyment. Getting the crew together to research and discuss potential charter / cruising destinations, boat selection, sailing itinerary and general familiarization with the cruising area, not to mention the seasonal variations in weather and the inherent flavor of the location is a major part of the planning process. Many of them purchase several cruising guides and send them to their various crew members in anticipation of some social research and cruise planning sessions. Although some of this information can be researched on-line from cruising blogs etc. it should be considered that the perspective of a writer of any established cruising guide is usually honed over many years verses the perspective of a cruiser/blogger who likely is visiting the area for the first time and may or may not be lucky with weather, access to local facilities and supplies, all of which may influence the experience.

Island Navigation and Harbor approaches:

Electronic chart plotters are wonderful, but they should never be relied upon as the sole instrument of navigation and although convenient for plotting a course,  developing waypoints and routing, once close to shore, the prudent sailor will start using additional tools to confirm his/her location and routing. On many occasions, when entering a narrow passage or approaching an anchorage, I have seen skippers zoom the plotter in for larger scale viewing of the area, a practice that can be fraught with gremlins! Given the fact that in many instances, electronic charts are digitized versions of standard DMA and NOAA paper charts, some of which were surveyed many years ago, it is easy to get lured into a false sense of security. In addition, we have observed that among several boats located in the same anchorage but utilizing different charting software, the boats appear on the respective plotter screens in different locations relative to their actual proximity within the anchorage. So although the actual GPS position is known, the charting software used can be inconsistent even with the WGS84 datum correction.

Bottom line, it is always prudent to use several different methods and tools to locate and update your position and always keep a sharp lookout ahead. Electronics can fail, yacht electrical systems can go down. Keep your position updated, preferably on a paper chart. Your cruising guide is your local expert, a necessary part of your navigation equipment and can help you interpret the chart, cross reference any discrepancies and, most important, recommend safe routing to your destination.

Now you are safely anchored; what’s going on ashore?

After the long sail you’re ready for a hike, a snorkel or want to take a taxi to visit an island destination or simply find a local bar or restaurant. Turn the page of your cruising guide and the information will be there, referenced, often with commentary and recommendations. Today,  Cruising Guides remain as relevant as ever and add to the planning enjoyment and general safety of the cruise. Do your research, plan the cruise, take along updated charts, but don’t forget to take your cruising guide along.

On the road less traveled, go with the people who know the way!

Bahamian Artist Barefoot Contessa

Bahamian Artist Barefoot Contessa

Artist Marjolein Scott-van der Hek lives and produces her spectacular artwork on the Island of Abaco in the Bahamas.She was born on Borneo in Indonesia, of Dutch parents and grew up in Indonesia, East Africa, Hong Kong and Singapore, where she studied classical ballet and fine art.

Her paintings reflect the vibrant colours of a tropical paradise.

Marjolein's medium of choice is watercolor on silk, using techniques based on the Indonesian art of Batik. The richness and depth of her colours are a result of a palette of European silk paints that are layered onto each painting. Each painting can take weeks to produce the vibrant colours on natural silk.

Although her subjects and commissioned works vary, they all reflect the spectacular beauty of nature, her surroundings and graceful people.

Marjolein's company, Barefoot Contessas produces a line of products that incorporate reproductions of her work, and we will be selling her prints in 3 different sizes and beautiful printed t-shirts, both in Gifts & Gear.




Five Favorite Leeward Anchorages

Little Bay, Anguilla

For those addicted to undeveloped natural beauty, Little Bay is outstanding, even by Caribbean standards. Along the shore, 70-foot cliffs rise from turquoise water. They are multicolored, in reds, pinks, greys and whites, textured by holes, caves and grottos, which are home to tropic birds, pelicans and kingfishers. You cannot anchor here, but you can pick up one of the moorings during the day. Ashore, there are two small but delightfully secluded beaches.

Anse de Colombier, St. Barths

This secluded bay lies at the bottom of a steep, craggy hill. The village of Colombier peeks down from way on top. The bay has a perfect beach, backed by a smattering of palms. There is no road access and the only way to get here is by boat, or a mile-long trek over the hills. Anse de Colombier is part of the St. Barths Marine Reserve, since the marine park took over and put down yacht moorings, the grass beds have returned attracting many feeding turtles.

Indian Creek, Antigua

When the English Harbour social scene gets so much that you cannot stand another happy hour, set sail for Indian Creek, which lies less than 2 miles to the east. This perfectly charming little hideaway winds back between cactus hills and is currently so deserted that you will see more goats and birds than people. Eric Clapton owns the house on Indian Creek Point. Indian Creek is so protected that you have the feeling of being completely landlocked. It feels cozy enough to ride out a storm.

Pain de Sucre, Iles des Saintes

The Saintes. This is an irresistible group of islands with idyllic Gallic charm. They are small, dry, and steep with mountains that climb over 1,000 feet and where white beaches abound. Pan de Sucre is a 200-foot mini-piton. It is joined to the island by a low strip of land with exquisite beaches on both sides. There is one house surrounded by palms, and a track leading up to the main road, those in good shape can hike up to Le Chameau, to the old lookout tower at the top. In the other direction, past Le Bois Joli, is a small, secluded beach that is often used for nude bathing.

Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica

If Christopher Columbus came back today, Dominica is the only island he would recognize. This is because Dominica is the region's most unspoiled country and its most exciting destination for spectacular natural beauty. This magnificent protected bay is over 2 miles long and a mile deep. Under normal conditions, you can anchor almost anywhere off the coast, from the Coconut Beach Hotel on the south shore right around to the Purple Turtle Restaurant on the north. The harbor is so good that Portsmouth was picked to be the island's capital; however this never came to be. Elizabeth Pampo Israel, the oldest person in the world, lived here until her death at the age of 128!

Five Favorite Anchorages of the Windward Islands

Grand Anse D’Arlet, Martinique

The hills rise steeply from a long beach, creating a scene Gauguin might have painted in when he was in the Pacific. Ashore there is not much more than a string of beach-front restaurants that serve fresh fish and lobster, the pace of life is relaxed and easy. You can find good snorkeling along either shore and if little adventure calls, great hikes have been created on well-laid-out trials at either end of the bay.

Pigeon Island, Rodney Bay, St. Lucia

In the olden days, when Europeans entertained themselves by sailing around in wooden boats and firing potshots at each other, Pigeon Island was their main base in St. Lucia. The island (now joined to the mainland by a man-made causeway) is a national park and you can wander round, visit the old gun emplacements and lookout points. Best of all Barbara is on hand to welcome you at Jambe du Bois, an inexpensive cruiser-friendly restaurant with a great books swap and easy chairs.

Petit Byahaut, St. Vincent

This small and beautiful bay has a small beach backed by hills with conspicuous peaky outcroppings of rock. There is nothing here but the remains of an abandoned hotel. The bay is only approachable by sea, and for most of the time you will have it to yourself. You will probably not find better and more colorful snorkeling in the Windwards, especially if you take a short dinghy trip to the bat cave, where you swim in one entrance and exit by another.

Tobago Cay, St. Vincent Grenadines

The Tobago Cays are a group of small, deserted islands, protected from the sea by Horseshoe Reef. The water and reef colors are a kaleidoscope of gold, brown, blue, turquoise and green. It is so beautiful you could spend a day just watching the changing colors. But if that is not enough, small beaches merge into clear water, and there is an area where you always get to swim with turtles. Snorkeling on the reef, too, is brilliant.

St. George’s, Grenada

St. George’s is the capital of Grenada and there is no city in the Windwards is more picturesque. The recent building of Port Louis Marina, has changed the aspect of this harbor so town and yachts become one entity. The outside anchorage is pleasant and open. Town, marina, the Grenada Yacht Club and major shops are all within easy dinghy reach. There is plenty to do with great restaurants and activities which may be in the marina, the yacht club or over at the museum.

Elephants in the Gulf Stream

The crossing from Florida to Abaco is about 130 miles, 55 miles across the Florida straits, to West End, Grand Bahama Island and then onto Abaco. The most challenging aspect is crossing the Florida Straits. The Gulf Stream flows northward at about 3 knots and is 20-25 miles miles wide. During the winter months if the wind blows hard (15 knots or higher) from the north, against the current, you have the equivalent of a 25-mile wide tide rip. Looking out to the horizon it will appear jagged or saw toothed, large square waves (elephants), high seas kicked up by the determination of the stream, struggling to fight its way north against the wind. This is not the time to make your crossing. When the weather is right the crossing is not difficult. The key factors to safe Gulf stream crossings are watching the weather closely, traveling in the company of other boats, reliable communications & navigation electronics (preferably with a back-up portable VHF), safety equipment and filing a float plan prior to departure.

The Abaco Islands

A wonderful group of islands, situated 100 miles north of Nassau, the Abacos represent the most versatile, least challenging and easiest to navigate of the Bahamian island groups. Abaco is comprised of 100 or so large and small islands and cays with the largest being the Great and Little Abaco. Stretching from the northern most island, Walkers Cay to Hole-in-the-Wall at the southern tip of Great Abaco Island, the waters are largely protected without blue water passages. Navigation throughout Abaco is simple and you are seldom out of sight of a neighboring cay. The Abaco chain was truly created for the cruiser, sail or power. Situated approximately 130 miles from any Southeastern Florida port of call, Abaco can easily be reached by most any seaworthy boat, either sail or power. Faster craft can reach Abaco destinations in a single day, while aboard a sailboat or trawler is likely to involve a couple of days or more in good weather for unhurried cruising.