writer traveler photographer

Tales from Tortola … the convertible and red flags

Beach bar at Smugglers, 1990 (photo Marcy Wallace)

What a treat to get a note from Marcy Wallace with photographs of the white convertible (Nell and Bob’s Lincoln Continental) that I mentioned in my last post. Marcy was here with Mark in 1990 and took some photos down at Smugglers. As you can see, at that time, there not only was a deck, table and chairs but also a staircase and some sort of upper level (perhaps a left-over façade from the set.) For sure the convertible had the best seat in the house!

When we visited in ’99, there was no deck, staircase, or upper level and the place was pretty ramshackle then although the car was still parked in the same spot. Now, as I mentioned, the building is simply a sorry sight. But the memories are as strong (and wonderful) as ever.

Red Flag = DANGER!

Another thing has changed; there is a flag system at most beaches. Red means DANGER! Do not swim. Of course, this is totally ignored by local surfers. The bigger the waves, the better. But for most folk, paying attention to the flag system makes sense as red flags mean huge waves that can knock you senseless and/or undertows that can wrestle you out to sea.

Yellow flag means CAUTION. You can swim but use common sense. For most of the past 30 days there’s been a red flag up at Long Bay. We walk by there every morning and it’s really an “ooh-aah” sight to see the big waves turning into tunnels and racing for shore.

Sometimes an incoming wave meets one that’s receding from shore and when they collide, it sounds like the crack of a rifle. Deafening. Then the incoming wave barrels through and hisses into shore as millions of miniature bubbles race for high ground.

When the water recedes, it sounds like a barrel of broken glass being shaken by an invisible giant. The combination of sights and sounds is quite dramatic. I imagine a mad conductor directing an orchestra under the palm trees as it plays a wacky concerto.

The third shot is taken of surfers in Apple Bay next to Bomba’s Shack. Bomba—and this full moon parties—are living legends. Now that’s a story for another time.


  1. Sharon Sharon
    January 15, 2011    

    I was hungry for another blog from Tortola… thanks… :) Another great shot with the beach/danger flag…


  2. Mike Mike
    January 21, 2011    

    I would like to learn more about your expectations for this house…as I have not seen previous blogs about it. I will be at Tortola in March and may come looking for it…..we are arriving by cruise ship and wanted to take a drive around, on our own….is that advisable?

  3. Mike Mike
    January 21, 2011    

    so, now having read older blogs and understand the house and car a bit better, my question to you is: is the house or car still there? I think it would be an interesting side trip to find it, while getting to know the island too…

  4. January 21, 2011    

    Hello Mike,

    Taking a drive around on your own is totally adviseable. It’s a great island. Give yourself plenty of time though as it takes a lot of time to get from one place to another because of the hills etc. You can do a lovely drive around the Western end of the Island. Leave Road Town where your ship will dock then drive to the West End and ask for directions to Smuggler’s Cove. From there, you can drive along the coast (lots of beaches and great little villages) before heading back to your ship.

    About the house and car. If you look at the post before this one (Smugglers Cove) the photo of the house/bar is “as is” today. Kind of pathetic. The car is a heap outside and barely recognizable it’s in such a mess. But the beach is great. We live directly above the beach and would be happy for you to drop in. We can correspond privately through email. s.phinney@ns.sympatico.ca

  5. Nicholas Kennings Nicholas Kennings
    July 2, 2012    

    My step father was born and raised on Tortola and I would love to find out more about his home island.

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Welcome! This is where I occasionally pluck and post a recent story or give a behind-the-scenes commentary (when fit to publish). You'll also find notices about upcoming workshops, such as memoir or travel writing. For the month of July, join me for the July Project. Enjoy your visit and come back often. Better yet, subscribe!

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