A day-trip to Redonda

A story from the recording of Brothers In Arms

It’s been on my mind for many years to write this story. Cast your mind back to 1984, I had just joined the band and off we flew to Montserrat to record the album ‘Brothers in arms’.

Alan Clark and I were residing in a house with a most spectacular view, looking out over the Caribbean Sea towards the north-west and beyond, the Leeward islands. Every now and then a large ship or large schooner would drift by taking what seemed like hours to cross our private horizon as we chilled out in our own way in hammocks on our veranda by our private pool. At night, the sky was spectacular; indeed some of the most memorable meteor showers I can recall were witnessed there. One particular speck on the horizon was the small, uninhabited island of Redonda. I strongly urge you to check out this website http://www.redonda.org/ for information on this unique quirk in history. While you’re there, also visit http://www.antiguanice.com/redonda/for an alternative opinion. It seems there are differing views as to who actually reigns.

Here we are about to set off on our journey. Check that boom out.

Here’s an excerpt :

The Island of Redonda lies in the Caribbean Sea, latitude 16 56′ North, longitude 62 21′ West, about thirty-four miles WSW of Antigua and approximately fifteen miles NW of Montserrat. It is about one mile long by one third of a mile wide, rising to a height of 971 feet, and is the rocky and uninhabitable remnant of an extinct volcanic cone. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus at 8 p.m. on the evening of November 12th, 1493, on his second voyage of exploration. Because of its apparently-rounded shape, he named it Santa Maria la Redonda, but did not attempt to land.

A message from King Leo (pictured left)….”As the present King of Redonda, I regard my reign as a trusteeship, in collaboration with the members of my realm, to perpetuate and develop for posterity a charming and unique quirk of history”.

Upon questioning the locals, we learned that it was a colony and indeed had a king. (we never got round to doing the research to find out who it was) According to them, the only requirement for ruling your own island in those early days of European colonisation was that there had to be a post office situated on the isle. Or so went the legend. So our unknown hero promptly built one, which still stands today. Redonda was, and still is inhabited only by sheep. Legend has it that every now and then, they would wander to the top of the cliff and a few of them would step off and plunge into the depths, lemming style, a drop of exactly 971 feet. More on this later. 

 That’s Neil Dorfsman in the foreground, he engineered and co-produced the Brothers in Arms record

Just to fill you in … It was December, 1984. We were on the ill fated Caribbean island of Montserrat recording the ‘dire straits’ album ‘Brothers in Arms’ at Air studios, a wonderful facility, the brainchild of the great Sir George Martin which became a recording paradise for so many great artists including Sting, Elton John, Neil Young and Arrow. Our stay lasted about three months and realising we had a certain amount of free time on our hands, Alan and I learned to windsurf. We spotted a local chap (Danny Sweeny) teaching people to windsurf in the bay and thought, “that looks like a laugh”. Little did we know what an influence it would have on both our lives. Danny used to hand over the ‘kit’ (which in those days required at least two people to carry) to excited customers and after a very basic ‘stance’ lesson on the beach, would send them out into the bay in prevailing offshore winds. The most amazing thing to me was that he would SWIM behind them issuing instructions such as “THE WIND IS COMING FROM THE NORTH!!” and “MAST FORWARD!!!!, THE WIND IS COMING FROM THE NORTH”. I still hear echoes of these instructions occasionally whilst I’m out on the water now. Danny was truly an exceptionally fit man. We estimated he would swim easily in excess of 20 miles per day. I always thought looking back, that if you can learn to sail in such fluky winds, you can sail anywhere. Anyway, back to the story…

We set a day for this epic adventure and were careful not to let too many people know about it. I doubt if the rest of the band would have agreed to our endangering our lives in such a way, with a world tour approaching and a very expensive album in the making. This was my first DS project and none of us had any idea it would end up being such a big record. That never seemed important to me at the time. I was having the time of my life.

The fateful day had arrived and I guess we weren’t needed much that week because no-one questioned our subsequent disappearance. We made our way to the designated beach of departure in our Suzuki ‘death trap’ jeep and met up with Danny and his brother ‘Englishman’. Yes, that was his name. Englishman. He owned a fishing boat and Danny wisely thought it would be a good idea for his brother to ‘be at sea’ whilst we made the sea crossing attempt. He needed to attend to his lobster pots as it happened. We checked the wind and decided that there was some, out at sea, and set off. The following two hours were never really logged in my memory as the next thing I recall was the sight of a monstrous supertanker heading directly towards us. This caused me to regain my senses and the dominant feeling was panic. Of course there was absolutely nothing we could do to alter either the course of the ship or our pathetic direction. We watched in amazement as the floating mass roared past , missing us by only a hundred yards or so. From then on my only thought was ‘why’ am I doing this? Looking briefly over my shoulder to whence we came revealed a small land mass only slightly larger than our destination. I thought then that the best course of action was to proceed. Redonda was looming large by now and we were steadily approaching what in my mind became known as the ‘cliffs of insanity’.

At this point I must mention the kit we were using. First of all, we had no harnesses or lines, we weren’t aware of their existence at the time; it was only when we visited a windsurfing shop in New York, during the mixing of the record, that we discovered this wonderful advancement. As you would imagine the local kit was basic. I used a Bic beginner board whilst Alan was sporting a Phillips 10’ mother-ship. (Phillips ended up being the main sponsors of the BIA tour) We both used the old triangular sails which were so popular in those early days.
We approached the island from the south-western corner and because of the sheer cliffs facing us, the wind dropped completely and we floundered. We could tell the sea depth here was huge because the colour of the water was almost black. It was reminiscent of a scene from ‘Jason and the Argonauts’. We learned later that the sea there was shark-infested due to the regular supply of fresh lamb falling from the heavens. Thankfully we encountered no evidence of this fact.

Danny and Englishman

We were all sitting on our boards, conserving our energy when I heard an ear-splitting cry. I looked up to see a 30-foot grey whale breaching right next to Danny. At this point we became very afraid. Although the ‘baby’ whale was obviously just toying with us, we were aware that we were completely at its mercy. Luckily, Englishman saw the commotion and motored towards us at full speed. The sound of his engine scared the whale away and we clumsily boarded his boat and he dropped us onto what appeared to be the only landing point available to us. We stepped foot onto Redonda which felt to us a bit like man’s first steps onto some unconquered land. A few yards up the rocky slope was the Post Office. A small empty wooden shack with a simple sign above the door…’Redonda Post Office’. We made a small fire and cooked a few of the Red Snapper that Englishman had caught. After a short contemplative lunch we set about on the return journey. Of course by this time our hands were pretty much locked in the grip position due to the lack of harness relief.

Here you get some idea of the perspective, that’s me with Redonda in the background. You can just make out the island of Nevis on the left.

The trip back was uneventful, long and painful and we didn’t arrive at Fox’s bay until an hour after dark. Paul Cummins (DS Tour manager) was waiting for us on the beach, and had been for a while. I couldn’t repeat what he said to us needless to say we both received an ‘earful’. We promised never to do it again (at least not until the Hamilton Island adventure, on the Great Barrier Reef during the tour later that year).