Terrific Tales from Smuggler’s Cove
A beach like the luminous new moon, Smugglers Cove in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, has played host to Queen Elizabeth’s car, a Hemingway film set and a cast of characters — all with their own stories.
My first introduction to Smuggler’s Cove was in 1995 and I’ve had a love affair with this beach ever since.
Its shape reminds me of the underbelly of a new moon — white and luminescent. The aqua ocean that sidles up to the shore looks almost fake, like you’d expect to see in a painting, but there’s nothing fake about this setting. It’s what I’ve come to expect. It’s the perfect little beach and it’s located in the West End of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands.
Years ago I had the entire beach all to myself — at least in the mornings. After lunch, a few residents from Belmont would drift down for a swim. Perhaps a curious traveler would wander by. Invariably we’d end up inside the remains of the “hotel” — part of the set for Ernest Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea. Here, visitors helped themselves to beer and soda pop from a dilapidated but working fridge and left money in a cigar box at the honour bar.
This is where I met Nell Deniston. She and her husband, Bob, owned the property. Nell was one of the fixtures. She put me in mind of a shipwreck in human form; keeper of the lagoon. I guessed her to be nudging 80, but a local said she had yet to flirt with 60. Her eyes were rheumy, the left one in a permanent droop; her salt-and-peppered hair was matted, strewn and straggly. Yet she had a quiet, regal presence. I felt she was knowing and kind.
Aside from Nell, other “characters” included a long, white Lincoln Continental convertible that used to be parked smack in the middle of the room.
This was the car Queen Elizabeth II toured Tortola in, back in 1967. The Lincoln belonged to Bob and Nell and they had it painted especially for the Queen’s visit. It’s rumoured that an empty Heineken bottle rolled out from under the seat. Her Majesty, sitting in the back with Prince Philip, discreetly nudged the bottle back under the seat with her shoe.
As precious little went unnoticed on the island at that time, this got back to Nell. That evening, at a reception aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, local lore says that Nell apologized to the Queen who then replied, “Don’t feel bad, my children have done the same thing.”
Today, the cement shell of the hotel remains, but the convertible and honour bar are long gone. So, too, the solitude and intimacy that used to characterize Smuggler’s Cove. Now, local vendors set up their own makeshift bars under the palm trees lining the cove and sell everything from “Bushwhackers” and “Pain Killers” to BBQ food and colourful clothing. Some rent snorkel gear and kayaks.
Although it’s changed the character of the cove, this beach is still a gem — and my favourite on the island. If a squall passes through (it’s a frequent occurrence to have a short shower sometime during the day) you’ll be rewarded with a rainbow.