Tall ship, Small ship, Sailing ship – Tom
Imagine finding yourself on a sailing ship, cruising the Eastern Caribbean. Imagine a real ship with real sails, 3 tall masts strung with many lines to control those sails, teak decks, varnished brightwork and all the things you might imagine when you read the romantic poetry of the age of sail. Imagine also, hot showers, a helpful and caring crew, good food, a small passenger list with a chance to meet and talk to everyone, and an itinerary taking you to 12 islands in 13 days. Imagine helping to raise those huge sails and looking up to see them reach the masthead, feeling the chills go down your spine as you leave port to the strains of "Amazing Grace", ringing out over the water from the on deck speakers.
Unbelievable, you say? Not really, if you sail on the S.V. Mandalay.
This is the Queen of the Fleet; oldest (built in 1923) and middle in size of the Barefoot Windjammers 5 sailing vessels, all of which are refurbished and taking passengers in the Caribbean. We were fortunate enough to sail with her from Grenada, at the south end of the Lesser Antilles, north through the Windward Islands to Antigua, well into the Leeward Islands. It is a 13 day trip, stopping at a different island almost every day.
We had beach days, with lazing on the sand, snorkling, wading, swimming or scuba diving on some of the beautiful beaches of the tiny Grenadines, and we had shopping – touring days, getting a taste of the larger, more sophisticated islands of the West Indies. Usually, we were able to visit ports and harbours closed to the large cruise ships, as our home away from home measures only 236 feet overall length and has a draft of only 16 feet.
Our sails were used on this trip mostly for stability, as we were mainly travelling against the prevailing winds. In any case,we steered to keep them full and drawing to assist the 950 HP diesel driving our 6′ 10" propellor. The technical details of the ship are certainly available and interesting, but you may be more interested in the Pros and Cons of the voyage and the accommodations.
Our standard cabin was small, about 8′ by 7′ 6", finished in varnished teak with bunk beds, perhaps the lower being a bit wider. The shower, toilet and wash basin take up a small enclosed area within the cabin. Standard cabins have a porthole and sufficient storage space for some hanging clothes, some folded clothes and room for unused bags beneath the lower. The more deluxe cabins have various arrangements, but in every case, more room. We found that we wanted to be in the dining saloon or on deck at any time we were not actually sleeping or cleaning up, so the small size was no problem. The beds were made up each day by the cabin steward, sometime between the time he served breakfast in the saloon, washed up, and prepared to serve lunch. There are 30 members of the crew, most filling two or more roles. They work very hard and seem to be very proud of their ship. The officers are young, competant and friendly.
The food was very good, but quite different from the fare on a large cruise ship. We were provided with coffee at any time, and beginning at 0630, there were pastries set out near a pitcher of Bloody Marys for those so inclined. Breakfast was served from 0730 until 0830; a set menu, changing each day, with fresh fruit, fruit juice, and various cold cereals always available. For those who could not arise for breakfast before 0830, a chafing dish with hot food was still available until about 0930. Lunch was always a buffet, either in the saloon, or if a beach day, ashore as a picnic. There was usually a hot meat, a cold meat, and salads, bread, (baked on board), and a fruit drink. At 1700, we always had "Snacks and Swizzles" on the top deck. This was a great social hour, and a chance to sit and talk with someone new. With only 68 passengers, by the third day out, you had likely seen everyone, and it made for a friendly time. We had rum punch each day and a variety of hot and cold finger food, again, not fancy gourmet fare, but very good and plenty of it. Dinner was served as a sit-down meal, with two seatings at 1830 and 1945. You could take your choice of seatings every night, and sit wherever you wished, again making for a family atmosphere. We had two choices of entree for dinner and those wishing vegetarian or special diet food were catered to, also. There was always something to do after dinner. There are no professional entertainers in the crew, so we made our own entertainment with games, dancing, stargazing, or patronizing the bar.
The down side of this cruise for some is the motion of the ship; always evident but usually not unbearable. Many passengers wore motion sickness patches all the time to stave off any problems. There are some rough waters in this area of the ocean, and much sailing was at night, so some folks had trouble sleeping. The sound of the engine was a pervasive noise as were the generators, which ran constantly.
Those seeking a lot of hype and glitz will not be happy on a Windjammer cruise, I think, but if you’re looking for a laid back, low key, "island time" cruise, where you can do a little work or none at all, meet all kinds of different people in a non-status situation, and spend time on a beautiful historic sailing ship in a stunning part of the world, this is certainly worth checking out.
Try your imagination one more time! Try to feel the deck of the ship at 0200, rolling slightly in the swell from a brisk breeze, a teak and mahogany wheel in your hands. Now try to see a red-lit compass to steer by and the sky clear and full of stars, and listen to an experienced helmsman, just at your elbow, glad to have your company in the quiet hours, explaining to you that the Captain’s course is 040 on the compass, but that if you work on feeling the ship as she moves, you will be able to steer by keeping the North Star just to the right of the forestay.
Tom at: firstname.lastname@example.org is willing to answer questions about the Windjammer Cruise.
What more can I say? – February 2001
Last updated May 16, 2001