St Maarten / Caribbean
On the Wind Surf
Nov – Dec 2018
We had a nice visit to the Grand Canyon and other National parks in September and a visit to the Turks & Caicos Club Med in October, but that left a big gap of cold weather between October and our trip to Bonaire in mid-January. It was definitely time to come up with another trip to warm weather between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
We have enjoyed our Wind Star cruises so we looked at our options and found a possibility out of St Maarten where we had missed a cruise last year because of the hurricanes and Susan’s broken ankle. We could do either of two different 1 week cruises, or we could do them back to back, creating a 2 week cruise. We decided that, once we had gotten to St Maarten, we might as well get our money’s worth out of the flights and do two weeks. The two week cruise visited a couple of islands we had been to previously, but mostly places we had not been to yet.
I made the Delta flight arrangements directly through Delta. On the way down it was a light travel day so the first class seats were very little additional. The time between the scheduled arrival and when we were supposed to be on the ship was a little tight, so being in the front of the plane and first to get off might help… or so I thought, so I grabbed the first class. The return flight was heavily booked and first class was expensive, so I got our usual exit row seats.
St Maarten from the air as we approach
The St Maarten airport facility was still operating in temporary facilities (huge tents). On the arrival this did not cause much problem but the departure process was chaos. Without going into detail, the departure was just short of a nightmare for the almost 4 hours we had to spend at the airport. On the bright side, by the time anyone reading this can get to St Maarten, the new airport buildings should be operational and they look very nice. The first class cabin did not help much with getting through the arrival process as they were using shuttle busses from the planes to the customs and immigration tent so we all got lumped together.
Wind Star cruise arrangements were handled by James Blingly at . As in past cruises, he provided prompt, friendly, and effective service.
At 312 passenger capacity, the Wind Surf is the largest ship in the Wind Star fleet. Although it has 6 large sails, it is primarily a motor vessel: The sails are for show, not for go. We did actually sail on “wind power only” a couple of times, but only when we were not in a hurry. The Wind Surf is significantly larger than the prior Wind Star cruise ships we have sailed on as they would only accommodate 149 passengers.
The Wind Surf at rest in Rodney Bay
Since we would be living in our cabin for two weeks, we splurged and got a “suite”, which is really two cabins together. Because of the “two cabins combined into one” layout, we had two of many things, such as two bathrooms (“his and hers”) two desks, two TVs, etc. The suites are all on Deck 3 which is the highest passenger cabin deck.
Through the cruise we had excellent service by our cabin attendant: we seldom saw him, but everything was well taken care of. One feature of the two week cruise that we took advantage of was free unlimited laundry service, so no problems with having enough clean clothes for the trip.
There are three primary restaurants and two “al fresco” areas: the Veranda, AmphorA, and Stella Bistro were the interior restaurants while Candles and “Dining under the Stars” were al fresco. There was also a snack bar, the Yacht Club, that had various light snacks and coffee or tea throughout the day. In addition to the regular restaurants, there is also a weekly on-deck BBQ dinner and a weekly beach picnic/BBQ lunch.
The Amphora before the dinner crowd arrives
There are three Bars: the main lounge on the main deck close to AmphorA; the Compass Rose, an indoor/outdoor area on an aft deck; a small pool bar.
All food was very good to excellent. Menus in AmphorA did repeat the 2nd week and the menus in Candles & Stella Bistro did not change much, if at all. Service was usually very good, with a couple of lapses. The wine list was better than expected with a very good selection of mid-range wines ($30 - $45). We had an onboard Sommelier and fairly knowledgeable wine assistants in each restaurant did help.
The main lounge before the band started
There were two musical “groups” on board, a 5 person band, mainly a Filipino family, who performed in the main lounge and a duo who performed in the Compass Rose bar. We usually relaxed in the main lounge so did not hear the duo very much. The Filipino family band, “Top Society” was pretty good and played a somewhat surprising mix of old songs which were appropriate for the age of most guests. One night was a “Rock ‘n Roll” night and another was a Beatles night. Their singing voices were flexible and one of them could do Elvis and Willy Nelson surprisingly well. They did not always hit he right notes together, but they were trying.
As usual for the Wind Star sailing ships, there was a bit of a ceremony each time we left a port and raised the sails. While raising the sails they played the title song from the movie “1492 Conquest of Paradise”. On this cruise we frequently left late so the sailaway was a bit late (after 9 PM).
The sails are all up at the completion of the sailaway.
The sailaway is especially dramatic at night with the sails illuminated. Check this video of the final part of the sailaway ceremony one evening.
With one exception, the staff on the Wind Surf was excellent. From the Captain (Captain Gerry Hogan) to the cabin attendants, kitchen staff, and maintenance people, they were all friendly, helpful, and always had a smile. The one exception was in a position where it was very noticeable, the Destination Manager, in charge of excursions. Possibly what irked us the most is that everything to do with excursions ran late: the nightly port talk about the next day’s activities always started 10 – 15 minutes late. We were supposed to report 15 minutes prior to departure for any excursion, but nothing actually happened until well after the scheduled departure time. There was definitely too much “island time” attitude related to the excursions. Some, but not all, of this could be attributed to the fact that this was the first cruise of the season in the Caribbean for the Wind Surf and some of the ports and excursions were completely new.
Most days of the cruise followed the same general pattern. We tended to get up around 7 AM and only had to set an alarm for early starts twice during the cruise. Breakfast in the Veranda restaurant usually included fresh and dried fruits, yogurt, some kind of bread (roll, muffin), perhaps some eggs (omelets cooked to order were available), and sometimes a prepared to order item such as pancakes or waffles. I frequently added some kind of sausage or ham or some smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers.
Breakfast in the al fresco part of the Veranda restaurant.
Most excursions were in the mornings and these will be covered in the daily log. If there was no morning excursion, we’d normally go ashore to look around and get in a walk. At most ports, this required a ride on a tender as we only tied up at a dock twice.
In the afternoon, if there was no excursion planned, we might go back ashore to look around. In any case, by mid-afternoon we usually found some lounges in the shade and with a breeze and settled down to read and relax for a while. About 4 PM we would either get a drink at the bar, or go to the Yacht Club for a cup of hot tea and a cookie to share.
About 6 PM we would get cleaned up to be ready for the port talk, generally scheduled for 6:45, to learn about the next day’s activities. Following the port talk was dinner at one of the restaurants. After that we would retreat to the main lounge for an expresso and either a class of port or a snifter of cognac. We would listen to the band play their first set and generally call it a night a little after 10 PM.
The band Top Society performing in the main lounge.
Although the arrival process in St Maarten, getting our luggage, and finding our transfer was reasonably quick, traffic from the airport to the cruise ship dock was terrible. We had three different drivers in St Maarten during our trip and all complained about the traffic and lack of any improvements to the road infrastructure. What should have taken about 20 minutes took over an hour. We got to the ship about 4:30, went through the formalities (photos, ID card created, etc.), got to our cabin by 5:00 and our luggage was delivered shortly afterwards.
Our Wind Surf is sandwiched between two large cruise ships at the dock.
We got the mandatory safety drill out of the way then got cleaned up and made it to the 6:30 expanded port talk. This one covered the entire week with some extra emphasis on the next day’s visit to Barbuda. With that out of the way, most people went out onto the open deck to watch the yacht pull away from the dock and raise the sails to the strains of “1492, the Conquest of Paradise”. Then it was dinner in the AmphorA dining room, followed by listening to the band for a while, and then we called it a night early after a day of traveling.
The first port of call was Barbuda, an island about 30 miles north of Antigua. Although Barbuda and Antigua are often mentioned in the same breath and make up one country, they are very different islands. Antigua is lush, very hilly, well developed with multiple resorts, and a significant population while Barbuda is absolutely flat, no more that about 10 feet above sea level, almost desert like, and with little development and few residents (about 1600). The island is virtually invisible until you get relatively close to it. It was hit hard by the hurricanes of 2017 and signs of recovery and rebuilding were all over the island.
Barbuda is a very low-lying coral and mangrove island. You can barely see it in this panorama.
The only excursion available was a tour of the Frigate Bird Sanctuary. We took the tender (one of the life boats) to a dock and loaded up into a couple of vans for the ride across the island to a bay with a boat ramp and small dock. The ride did give us a chance to see the “downtown” (two small stores) and where the resident people live. We loaded up into two boats and headed across the bay toward the barrier islands and Frigate sanctuary. On the way across the bay we could see a couple of small resorts and one larger one that had been almost destroyed. There was talk of rebuilding and even building new resorts, but it looked like a long tern effort.
Riding across the bay with lots of hurricane damage in view.
A 15-minute ride across the bay brought us to some mangrove islands where the Frigate birds roost, build nests, mate, and raise the young.
There were always some Frigates in the air and some in the mangroves
Our guides explained the habits of the Frigate birds: the male inflates the red sack in its neck to attract females and once a pair agree to bond, they stay together for that mating season.
Male Frigates seemed to specially like the little mangrove islands.
Frigates have a very long but narrow wing which makes them very efficient flyers but their wings cannot withstand diving into the water after fish, like a Pelican does, so they have to fly low over the water and just skim the water with their lower bills to scoop up fish.
White headed birds are females. Dark heads without a red throat bag are immature birds.
We noticed that the mangrove islands were brown and leafless, seemingly dead. I asked a guide about this and he said that yes, the hurricanes had killed the mangroves but they were encouraged that there were green leaves starting to show up again in the mangroves, so the islands were slowly on the mend. Mangroves are very important to islands like this as they provide a very effective buffer to large waves and storm surge during storms. They are often referred as the “Nursery of the Sea” because so many fish and other sea creatures start their lives in the protection of the mangrove roots.
On the way back to the ship we stopped to look at a small fort that had been built in the 1700s. It was to protect the bay where the Wind Surf was anchored and we could see our ship from the fort.
This small fort weathered the hurricanes with no problem.
Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, Dominica is a lush, hilly island lying between Guadeloupe and Martinique. We docked at the port and largest city of Roseau, in the south western quadrant of the island.
The port city of Roseau, Dominica
Our excursion for the day was a “Champagne snorkel Adventure”. We were to snorkel in an area where bubbles continuously come up from the sea floor. The initial plan was to ride on a sailing catamaran and snorkel off of that but apparently it had mechanical problems, so we boarded a small bus for the trip to the snorkel site. This did give us a chance to see more of Dominica and some of the damage done by last year’s hurricanes.
Walking to the starting point for the Champagne Snorkel
The snorkeling itself was rather mediocre, with relatively poor visibility and not much interesting coral or fish.
But I did spot a yellow-breasted, pink fined Susan fish.
There were some unusual sights, such as some discarded cannons and somewhat unusual sponges.
We saw sponges line this on several islands this trip.
There is actually a canon under the mess covering it.
When we finally got to the bubbling area, there were indeed a lot of bubbles coming up from the ocean floor.
Not sure about the champagne part, but they are certainly bubbles.
It is hard to get good photos of the bubbles, but this video might give you a better idea.
The snorkel guides were friendly and very accommodating to a couple of people having problems with snorkeling.
By the time we go back to the Wind Surf, we had a slightly late lunch and just relaxed on the yacht the rest of the day.
As Susan and I were going to breakfast, we were just pulling into Rodney Bay in St Lucia.
It was a little overcast as we pulled into Rodney Bay, next to Pigeon Island.
In this video of Rodney Bay the fort referred to later is at the top of the hill shown at the end of the video.
The bay is on the northern part of St Lucia and is formed by the main island of St Lucia, Pigeon Island, and a causeway connecting Pigeon Island to St Lucia proper. For our excursion today, we would be doing some real sailing in a high-performance racing sailboat. We took the tender in to the beach at Pigeon Island and transferred to a van for the 15 minute ride to a marina.
It was definitely a high-performance sailboat, but did have decent accommodations below.
Most of the 6 or 7 people on this excursion had some sailing experience, although a couple were “newbies”. We loaded up onto the boat and motored out of the harbor, while getting instructions from the young woman owner who was assisted by a young crewman.
We sailed back and forth across Rodney bay, venturing out of the bay into the larger waves of the Caribbean for a while.
This is the same boat, but later in the day, as seen from the fort at the top of the hill.
We all took turns at the various positions, including helmsman as we toured the bay. I had the last turn at the helm so I got to make a couple of extra tacks to position us for the return to the marina.
The racing sailboat we had sailed earlier, as seen from the deck of the Wind Surf.
It was nice getting out on the water in a real sailboat on which you could really feel the wind.
This was also the day of the weekly Wind Star Beach BBQ and picnic lunch. By the time we got back to Pigeon island the festivities were well under way so we quickly got in line for some of the food.
We were a little late getting to the food tent, but there was plenty left for us.
They had the normal picnic items, such as burgers, pork, hot dogs, fish, lots of salads, veggies, and a selection of deserts. By the time we finished, we were full and decided we needed some exercise to work some of that food off. It happens that there is a fort on the top of one of the hills that make up Pigeon Island, and it is a pretty good climb to that fort. The last part of the climb included some questionable looking wood steps, but we made it up (and down) without incident.
We had a great view of the entire area from up at the fort, including a good view of the Wind Surf.
A nice view of Rodney Bay from the small fort.
After climbing back down, we decided we had exercised enough for the day and headed back to the yacht to relax and do a little reading for the rest of the afternoon. As we were relaxing near the bow, I noticed “our sailboat” out in the bay with another group of sailors. (photo above)
That night we were to try a new al fresco dining location, “dinner under the stars” in an open area of the aft deck. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing pretty hard and there was a threat of rain, so the dinner was moved under the covered and protected area normally used by the Candles Restaurant, which was idle this evening. It was a nice meal with attentive service and provided a change of pace from the AmphorA.
Les Saintes is a group of about seven islands, only two of which are inhabited, lying about six miles south of the island of Guadeloupe.
The harbor at Les Saintes: relatively peaceful at the moment.
For a better view of the whole bay, check this video..
The schedule for the day included a snorkeling excursion on a sailing catamaran, but there would also be some unplanned excitement.
Our sailing and snorkel excursion boat, seen from the Wind Surf.
The sailing was described as a sail “around the island” but we actually just sailed out past a couple of the smaller islands, turned around and came back, stopping in a cove to snorkel some. The water was clearer here than at our last snorkel but there really was not much very exciting to see, except perhaps for a strange looking “Susan Fish”.
The water was reasonably clear with lots of small fish
The rare Pink Fined Susan fish also made an appearance.
At the end of the snorkel trip we waited at the dock for a while for the tender and looked around the small town a little.
Notice what ship the cannon is perfectly aimed at!
We headed back to the Wind Surf and had a slightly late lunch. As we were eating at one of the outside tables, I noticed a small plane flying very low, probably a Cherokee 6 for those familiar with small planes. There is an airport on the other side of this island, just over some low hills, so I assumed the plane was heading there until I noticed the smoke trail coming out the back of the plane. Smoke coming out of a small plane is never a good sign. I thought he might try to make it over the hill to the airport but, probably wisely, the pilot decided against that. As he continued to lose altitude, he apparently aimed for a clear patch of water just off the beach, managing to avoid all of the tall sailboat masts in the area. The plane hit the water with a large splash and stopped immediately. Several dinghies and small boats that were in the vicinity immediately headed over to the plane as its nose started pointing down. The tail of the plane went up in the air and, within about 5 minutes, the plane sank out of sight completely.
Look closely in the middle of the picture and you can see the tail of the plane sticking up.
We were too far away to see just what was going on but our Captain announced that evening that the pilot and two passengers had escaped with only minor injuries. Clickfor a more complete story (in French).
After that excitement we just relaxed on a couple of lounges in front of the bridge and watched a number of rather unusual boats going by.
One of the somewhat unusual boats that sailed past us.
At 5:00 PM we weighed anchor, raised the sails to music, and sailed out of Des Saintes. That evening we had dinner in AmphorA and then enjoyed the “Crew Show” in the lounge. The crew show is a regular feature on Wind Star cruises and the talent can vary considerably.
A nice sunset, even without the sun itself
St Kitts turned out to be a bigger and busier island that I expected. This may have been influenced by all the people on the two large cruise ships in port at the same time. As we were heading to breakfast at the Veranda, we were a bit surprised to see a mirror image of the Wind Surf coming into port with us.
The Club Med II joining us in St Kitts
The ship Club Med II was joining us at St Kitts. Our ship, the Wind Surf, was initially the Club Med I when launched in 1989 but was later sold to the company being formed as Wind Star. I understand that the Club Med II was to also be sold to Wind Star, but that fell through for some reason and it still operates under the Club Med banner. I thought it rather unusual for the two sister ships to be in the same port together, but this was not to be the last time.
Our scheduled excursion was not to be until afternoon so we decided to take a tender to shore and look around. We basically wandered around the streets without a map or directions to see what we could find.
The Circus traffic circle and clock.
In the middle of town was sort of a traffic circle with a large clock in the center that we thought looked a little strange. Turns out this is referred to as the “Circus” because it was somewhat patterned after London’s Piccadilly Square/Circus. Some people say it is called the Circus because of the kind of traffic that flows around the four faced clock. We continued on and found a city block sized park that turned out to be the site of a former large slave auction and is now named Independence Square.
Independence Square and the St George’s Anglican Church
The town did not really seem very pedestrian friendly and it was somewhat crowded with people from the large cruise ships, so after wandering around a little more, we headed back to the Wind Surf until time for lunch and our excursion.
Our adventure for this day was to take a tour bus ride that was titled “Brimstone Hill Fortress and Fairview Great House”. After lunch we again took the tender into town and loaded up the bus. Our guide/driver provided a short tour of the city before heading out of town toward the Great House. Along the way he pointed out items of interest, including a relatively large medical school that the island is promoting as one of their sources of income. While the medical school seemed to be doing well, the Veterinary School next door was huge! There were multiple new housing units under construction and multiple pastures and corrals with lots of animals in support of the veterinary school.
First stop, the Fairview Great House
Our first was at the Fairview Great house and it did have a pretty fair view.
View from the Great House
The Great House was originally built about 300 years ago but has been expanded over the years and a major “reconstruction” was completed about 6 years ago. It sits on a hill with a great view, and tours could walk through to see furniture and fixtures from its history. The grounds were also interesting as a form of botanical garden, with many different kinds of plants and trees. We wandered the grounds for about 45 minutes and then loaded up in the bus again.
Our next stop was the Brimstone Hill Fortress and it was aptly named. One of the most interesting parts was getting up to the fort: some of the turns were very tight and there were a couple of arches that the driver had to maneuver through very carefully. I was very glad I was not driving. There was a short video with information about the fort, then we walked up a ramp with stairs to the fort proper.
The wall going up is actually the walkway to the fort.
The fort itself had several levels you could explore with lots of cannons in place. The view from up there was very good and I can see how it would have been a very effective fort to defend the island.
Ignoring the foreground, the Islands of Sint Eustatius and Saba are behind.
The main fort itself was rather extensive, and on the next level down were the supporting buildings such as the barracks, powder rooms, and a separate hill used for spotting and observation. That hill was named “Monkey Hill” because there were monkeys in the area: we saw several in a field to one side of the visitor center area.
This short video gives you a little better feel for the extent of the fortifications.
We returned to town shortly after there had been a light rain shower, so we were greeted by a very nice double rainbow.
Double rainbow over Basseterre, St Kitts. Double good luck?
Tonight would be a special dinner; the Wind Star on-deck BBQ. We have had these BBQs before and it is not your typical BBQ! Lots of prepared salads, shrimp, steak, beef, pork (sliced and ribs), fish, paella, multiple desserts and about anything you could want.
The pig is always the guest of honor
The BBQ is followed by some line dancing by crew and guests and this time it was topped off by the sailaway ceremony at 10 PM.
More properly, we were at the town of Gustavia, St Barthelemy, known as one of the most expensive places to visit in the Caribbean and the home of many large yachts.
Gustavia harbor with a few yachts.
Our primary activity today was a morning sailing and snorkeling excursion to a small protected bay on the north end of St Barts. We took the tender into the harbor and the sailing catamaran was just arriving as we stood on the seawall.
The catamaran for our sail and snorkel trip
About 8 of us loaded up and we headed out, raising the sails as soon as we had cleared the harbor. (No dramatic music for this sail raising though.) Our hosts/crew were a young man and young woman, both originally from France, who worked the boat together but were otherwise unrelated. They were very friendly and helpful. As we left the harbor, we noticed a number of small sailboats of two different types but all with similar yellow sails so we asked the crew about these.
Sailing school boats line up in front of the Wind Surf.
Turns out that these were from a local sailing school and they are intended to teach the local children how to sail. Considering that they lived on an island and much of their economy was dependent on the sailing yachts that visited, it made sense to me.
We continued on a nice sail around to a bay with a nice beach and protected anchorage area where we tied up to a mooring ball You can see some boats in the bay come into view as we round the point in this video.
The snorkeling here was OK, but the water was not as clear as other places and there was not a lot of fish or coral to see but we paddled around for a while to see what we could find.
There were a few interesting fish by some coral.
Another spotting of the pink fined Susan fish
Of course, after everyone was out of the water, a large sea turtle came right by our boat. After relaxing a few minutes and enjoying some good rum punch, we released the mooring ball, raised the sails again, and headed back to the harbor, enjoying the ride and the views along the way. In this direction we were headed somewhat into the wind and swells so we had a bit more of an “interesting” ride.
Wind Surf in distance
When we got back to the dock, we said good-by to our friendly hosts and headed back to the Wind Surf for lunch and a brief rest. We decided that we had not seen much of Gustavia or St Barts proper so after lunch we headed back ashore to look around. Without a map, we mostly wandered through some of the narrow streets lined with small but very expensive boutique shops.
The main street in Gustavia
We did know there was one beach within walking distance so we set out to find that. After a couple of wrong turns, we did get to Shell Beach, so named because it is made up mostly of finely ground up shells rather than the normal sand.
After walking through the harbor area and looking at the large yachts, we returned to the Wind Surf to relax for a while before cleaning up for dinner. This evening we had reservations in the Stella Bistro for a bit of a change. The bistro was nice, not as big or busy as AmphorA and service was good, but it seemed a bit pretentious and the food was not that different from AmphorA or Candles.
At the mid-point of our cruise we were back in St Maarten to drop off some guests and pick up some new ones, but we were able to treat it as a normal port day. By the time we tried to sign up for a ship arranged excursion, there were no slots available, so we were on our own. St Maarten does have a large cruise port and with two big cruise ships in port (plus our “little” Wind Surf), it was very busy. We walked to the area where the local taxis and tours picked up and asked around a little, and were soon in a tour van with 6 other people starting on an Island Tour. Our driver/guide was interesting and informative and kept up a running commentary as we toured the island.
One of our first stops was at the “border” between St Maarten (the Dutch side) and St Martin (the French side). The border is barely a line in the sand as it has no practical significance in the daily lives of the residents or visitors.
We are checking the “lack of a border” memorial.
Both parts of the island were devastated by the 2017 hurricanes but the Dutch side seems to have recovered better than the French side so far. We stopped at one of the more famous vacation areas of St Martin, Orient Beach, and took a brief walk. The damage was obvious and there was a lot of construction work going on, but I’d guess that it will be at least another 6 months before they are ready to accept many tourists again. Unfortunately, that means they will miss most of the upcoming peak tourist season.
Orient Beach with sea-weed
We loaded back into the van and headed over to the east side of the island, along Grand Case and then south toward Marigot, the capital of the French part of the island, then on around to our stop at Maho Beach. This is where the end of the airport runway comes down very close to the beach so that the arriving airplanes come very low over the heads of people on the beach. The jet blast for large departing aircraft can blow people off the beach and into the water. The tide was very high when we were there so the beach was narrow and very crowded.
Maho Beach to the right… very crowded Maho Beach
There were some pretty good swells/waves coming in so when a large wave hit, it rolled right up the beach and some even flowed over onto the road. Since we really didn’t want to get hit by a wave, we didn’t linger long on the beach and instead wandered around the area waiting for a large plane to land or take off to generate some excitement, but that did not happen while we were there.
We made one more stop at a scenic overlook where we could look back toward the airport and the Simpson Bay Lagoon.
Simpson Bay Lagoon
What you cannot see in the photo above are the numerous boats and yachts that are beached along the edges of the lagoon or sunk somewhere in the middle of it, victims of the 2017 hurricanes.
We returned to the Wind Surf, had lunch, and relaxed for the rest of the day until the required safety drill for the new cruise and then the description of the ports and excursions for the upcoming week. It was almost like starting all over again, including leaving the dock and the sailaway ceremony as we left St Maarten for the 2nd time.
The yacht was anchoring just outside the entrance to Falmouth Harbor as we were going to breakfast and, while we were enjoying that breakfast, an “old friend” joined us: The Club Med II anchored about a quarter mile behind us. We would share the port with them again.
Club Med II and tenders outside Falmouth Harbor
We had signed up late for a small boat and snorkeling excursion for today, but got notice that one of the operator’s boats had a mechanical problem so, as the last people to sign up, we got dropped from the excursion. Guess we’ll just have to entertain ourselves today!
We visited Antigua twice before and had been to this area (Falmouth Harbor & adjacent English Harbor) on an excursion back in 2000, so we had some idea of places to visit so we took the tender to the dock at Falmouth Harbor and started walking. We were looking for English Harbor and Nelson’s Boatyard, but we initially headed down the road in the wrong direction and had to ask for help to finally head the right way.
Some of the old boatyard buildings have been updated and are still in use today.
We wandered around the boatyard and harbor, looking at all the large yachts docked there and visited their museum. The boatyard is the oldest continuously operational boatyard in the “New World” and there is quite a bit of history here.
After looking around, we headed back to the marina area in Falmouth Harbor and then walked to one of the local beaches.
On the way to the beach we had a view of the small boats in Falmouth Harbor.
It turned out to be more of a walk than we expected, since there was a decent hill we had to climb over (going and coming back).
Pigeon Point Beach, with the Club Med II in the distance
After the walk to the beach, we decided that we had enough walking for the day and headed back to the yacht for lunch and to relax for the rest of the day.
This was mostly a day of relaxing as we headed toward Tortola. In the morning, we did get in a decent workout in the gym. I passed the time on the elliptical machine by watching the flying fish skimming the surface of the water and the birds (Masked Boobies, I believe) flying above and diving down to sometimes catch the fish. The ship apparently disturbed the flying fish, causing them to fly, and the birds were taking advantage of the opportunity. The strange thing is that they only did this on the starboard side of the ship: I never saw a single flying fish off the port side.
In the afternoon the yacht’s sommelier conducted a wine tasting and did a nice job of it, despite some of the guests being a bit noisy. We tasted 5 wines and he did a very good job of showing how eating food, especially cheese, with the wine can have a major effect on how we perceive the wine’s taste.
Tables set for the wine tasting
Tonight, would be a special night at the Candles restaurant. Our anniversary is Dec. 4, but the weekly on-deck BBQ was scheduled for that night, so we were celebrating a day early. Consistent with our celebration of our anniversary on the Wind Spirit in French Polynesia last year, we ordered the Red Velvet Cake for two as our dessert. It just seemed appropriate and, besides, it is very good.
By the time we were up and headed for breakfast, the Wind Surf had anchored just off of the harbor at Road Town, Tortola. We could not help but notice the two large cruise ships at the dock (one of them the Queen Mary 2), so we knew the town would be crowded and busy.
The harbor at Road Town, Tortola
We did not have any excursion scheduled for today, so we were just going to walk around and explore the area and perhaps visit the botanical garden. We took the tender in and made our way through the crowd of people coming off the cruise ships. We wandered around town some, noting the hurricane damage that was still very apparent.
A nice boat in Road Town marina had not yet been refloated
After walking around a while, we had no idea how to get to the botanical garden, so we headed back to the cruise ship docks and picked up a map at the information desk. With the aid of the map we were able to find our way to the botanical garden and paid the $3 “donation” to enter. We were actually glad to contribute something to help the garden recover from the storms.
Some of the Botanical Garden grounds
There was a building of some kind that had lost most of its structure and numerous trees that only had the stumps left or were missing completely.
The smaller plants and flowers seemed to be coming back pretty well.
It was somewhat sad to see much of the garden in bad condition, but also encouraging that it was starting to recover.
I wonder if this guy was around during the hurricanes?
By now we had a nice walk so headed back to the ship for lunch. This was an unusual day in that we repositioned to a different location mid-day, so about 1:00 we raised the sails and headed away from Road Town.
It was just a short 12 miles down to Norman Island, a private island a little south of Tortola.
No large cruise ships in the bay at Norman Island
As we approached Bight Bay on Norman Island, I could just imagine the thoughts of the people on the many small boats in the bay thinking that the Wind Surf was going to intrude on their peaceful space. Not to worry though, we anchored a little outside the bay so the only disturbance would be our tenders running back and forth. As a private island, there were few services or facilities, just two snack bar type restaurants (only one of which was open) and a small swimming beach with some areas for possible snorkeling. It didn’t look like the snorkeling would be very interesting, so we just took a tender in to the beach to look around some.
Norman Island beach: It was a very pretty setting.
We walked along the beach and shoreline a ways in both directions from the dock, and decided that we had seen about enough as there were no chairs or lounges available for us to relax on the beach.
This evening was to be the weekly on-deck BBQ so we had another feast in store.
The chefs were grilling and serving. Note the lobster tails on the grill.
This week they had added lobster tails to the menu, something that we had noticed was missing the first week. As usual, we ate too much, but with all that good food, it is hard to resist. Even the salads are very tempting and, of course, we had another roasted pig.
A pretty display of salads with desserts on the next table
The usual line dancing followed with a relatively short conga line topping it off before we stopped by the main lounge to relax with our espresso and cognac.
During the night, the Wind Surf made the short 40 mile journey to Great Harbor on Jost Van Dyke.
JVD is a relatively sleepy little island.
We had visited JVD (and part of Tortola) during our sailing course back in May, 2014, so we were at least a little familiar with the area.
Our excursion for today was to be a sailing trip that included some snorkeling and a (optional) “light hike” to the “bubbly pool”. We had the second departure of this tour for the day at 12:00 (noon). This presented an example of the apparent lack of planning in the excursions department as the Veranda opened for lunch at 12:00 (noon). So, what were we supposed to do for lunch if we were had to be at the dock on the island at 11:45? We asked at the excursions desk that morning and they had apparently not considered that issue. We jointly decided that the best plan was probably to visit the Yacht Club snack bar about 11:00 when they put out some small sandwiches and take them with us (or just eat them there). Obviously, this should have been considered earlier and box lunches provided or some such other solution. Once we got to the dock there was another issue: the information about the excursion implied that snorkel gear would be available on the boat so several people had not brought their own gear, but no such snorkel gear was available. We always bring our own snorkel gear so it was not an issue for us and Wind Star did refund us part of the cost of the excursion, but this was another example of the lack of planning or communications for the excursions.
The boat was late returning from the first excursion of the day (another apparent lack of communication between the excursion company and the Wind Surf staff), so it was almost 1:00 before about 10 of us boarded the catamaran and headed out. The captain, originally from South Africa, seemed very capable but the two assistants, although very friendly and fun, seemed somewhat less experienced with sailing. Despite some problems getting the sails up, we were soon sailing along and managed to avoid a couple of rain showers in the area. We sailed around to the eastern side of the island and into Long Bay, where we had practiced “crew overboard” exercises during our sailing course. We tied up at a dock in front of what used to be Foxy’s Taboo Bar and Grill before the hurricanes almost flattened it.
At Foxy’s Taboo dock. The dock is in much better shape than Foxy’s Taboo bar.
A couple of people elected to snorkel but it did not look very interesting to us, so we went with the “light hike” option. It was an easy hike, except perhaps for the place where you were guaranteed to get your shoes wet, and we got to the bubbly pool in about 15 minutes. The Bubbly Pool is so named because there is a gap in the rocks that forces incoming waves to become very turbulent, introducing lots of small bubbles into the water as the waves come into a small pool.
Our group got excited about even a small wave and its bubbles.
The waves were pretty small during our visit and I did not get a decent video of the effect, but if you want to get a good idea of what Bubbly Pool is all about, go toand skip to the 2 minute mark.
After returning from the Bubbly Pool, we loaded up on the boat again and headed over to a small island, Diamond Cay, for some beach and/or snorkeling time. This time we took the snorkeling option and paddled around for a while trying to find something interesting.
The little fish seemed to be guarding his concrete block.
Some of our group decided to relax on the beach or explore the little island. I remember this island from our sailing course four years previously and the damage from the hurricanes was obvious.
A nice beach, but the trees and plants were severely damaged
After a little while at Diamond Cay we loaded up and headed back to Great Harbor to the accompaniment of some rum punch.
This evening was the Crew Show so, having seen it before, we found another place to relax that evening before calling it a night.
Virgin Gorda is a lush and picturesque island that, like many other islands, is still recovering from the hurricanes the previous year. We saw the damage and reconstruction work all over the island.
Looking across the harbor at the Wind Surf
We had an “island tour” and trip to the famous Virgin Gorda Baths on our schedule for the day, followed by the weekly Wind Star beach BBQ at one of the island beaches.
The tour was nice with a couple of small tour busses circling the island and stopping at a couple of places for a good view.
Savannah Bay was a typical beautiful Caribbean beach scene.
At one point we stopped at the “Hog Heaven” bar and grill high up on a hill with a great view of Prickly Pear island and, just beyond, Necker Island, owned by Richard Branson and which you can rent for yourself and 33 of your friends for about $60,000 per night.
Pricky Pear is the larger island in the middle and Necker Island in the upper left.
We continued around the island, finally arriving at the area known as the Baths. This is a section of beach where large boulders come down into the water creating rather strange landscapes and formations.
One of the beaches at the Baths
There were several little beaches where you could get out in the water and we waded around a little to cool off some then we headed to the path through the largest of the boulders. I’ll let the photos speak for our journey through this section.
Entering the path to Devil’s Bay and the Baths
Susan in what is probably the most photographed section of the Baths
Another rather closed in area of the Baths
There was beach at the exit from the Baths from which we could see our ship.
When we got done with the walk through the Baths, we hung around the little beach for a while then walked back up to the main visitor center where our tour company had some rum punch waiting for us. We relaxed for a while until the rest of our group showed up, then loaded onto the tour bus.
Instead of taking us back to the dock and our ship, the bus dropped us off at a local beach where the Wind Surf crew had set up the weekly Beach BBQ. In the past, the Wind Star cruises had used a beach on Prickly Pear Island but it was torn up by the hurricanes and not yet in a condition to host our group, so we were using a substitute beach. The crew tried to make it work, but it was just too small and crowded for as many people as we had. There were not enough picnic benches for eating, not enough shade, and the little palapas they set up were crowded together on the narrow beach, two and three deep. The food was fine and the crew did the best they could, but I hope they can find better facilities soon. We couldn’t find any comfortable shade, so we decided to just head back to the Wind Surf and relax there for the rest of the day.
We observed the sailaway ceremony at 5:00 and watched a pretty sunset from the bridge deck.
We did have a pretty sunset among the islands of the BVIs.
We cleaned up and got ready for the port talk and dinner in the AmphorA tonight. Most evenings we had shared tables with other guests at the deck BBQ and in the AmphorA but tonight I told the Maitre’d that we wanted a table for two. We had gotten to know him fairly well so, when he looked a little surprised at my request, I told him that I wanted Susan all to myself tonight. He smiled, said that he certainly understood, and gave us a very nice table for two.
On our last full day of the cruise, we were back in St Barts. This time we tried to sign up for the “island tour” excursion, but it was full, so we were on our own, but at least we had a better idea of where things were located. We took the tender into the marina in the middle of Gustavia and headed out. Our first objective was an old fort overlooking the town. One piece of information said that it was now the local police headquarters and no visitors were allowed, but it represented a challenge just to get to it, so we went in that direction. After a nice (uphill) walk, we did get to the fort but it was indeed a police facility with lots of “No admittance” signs, so we headed to our next target, another fort. Fort Karl is really more just an observation position: we did not see any real fortifications or cannons. There were several nice views from here though.
A nice view of the Gustavia harbor area from Fort Karl
From one side of the fort we had a good view of the Gustavia harbor area, and from the other side we could see the same Shell Beach we had visited at the ground level a week previously.
Overlooking Shell Beach
We wandered back through town, looking at all the yachts in the harbor and we watched one large one maneuvering into position at a dock while about 5 or 6 crew members looked on, ready to assist. We considered going up the hill behind the town, where there was supposed to be another fort (we’re big into forts I guess) but it was getting close to lunch so we headed back to the Wind Surf.
After lunch, with nothing special to do, we decided to go back and climb the hill we had skipped in the morning. It ended up not being as high or difficult as I thought it would be, but it was also somewhat disappointing.
Another view of Gustavia: the green lump in the top center is Ft Karl.
There was road construction in progress and the path to the other fort was blocked off, suggesting that you really were not supposed to go there. We looked around for reasonable alternatives, but finally gave up and headed back to the ship. We spent the rest of the day relaxing, watching the boats in the harbor and the airplanes approaching to land at the famously short airport runway just over the hill.
That evening was the Captain and Crew Farewell in the lounge and they sang “That’s What Friends Are For” as a good-by and, of course, all the guests in the lounge joined in and gave the crew a standing ovation. After getting our disembarkation instructions for the next morning, we headed to the Stella Bistro for our last dinner on board. We stopped in the lounge for a little while after dinner, then returned to our cabin to pack our bags and get ready to leave in the morning.
Things happen early on departure day, so we were up early and eating at Veranda before 7:00. Everyone was saying good-by to all the friends they had made during the two weeks, both other guests and crew. We had an excursion planned (sailing some actual America’s Cup sailboats), so we had a slightly different schedule and, true to form, a snafu between the excursion people and the hotel staff almost caused us and 2 or 3 other couples to miss the excursion.
While we were waiting in the lounge to disembark, the Captain stopped to tell us good-by.
We did finally board the bus to the sailing excursion and it pulled out of the cruise ship port, drove about 100 yards down the street, and turned into a small marina area where our sailing was to start. We could have walked the distance faster than the bus drove it.
We all piled onto a pontoon boat which was to take us out to the two sailboats: Stars & Stripes (the 1987 Americas Cup winner) and True North (a 1987 challenger from Canada). On the way to the boats we were divided up into two teams and our team ended up on True North. (We had several Canadians in our group.) We transferred to the True North and got some very quick instruction in how to perform our various jobs on the boat. Susan was to be the aft stay setup person and I was the aft stay grinder. In other words, she set the lines up on the winches and I did the work of winching the lines tight.
Susan is ready at one of the winches with the Stars and Stripes in the background.
Before we really knew quite what we were supposed to do, the race was on! There was some very close racing, and I mean the boats were very close to each other at times. (After the race, our captain admitted to me that we got much closer to ramming the Stars and Stripes than he planned or wanted: I thought his voice had gone up an octave or two during that close encounter.) The race lasted about 45 minutes, with the lead changing a couple of times, but, true to history, Stars and Stripes won again.
On the way back to the dock, one last chance to say good-by to the Wind Surf
Back on the dock we had the standard cup of rum punch and, after visiting their souvenir store, we loaded up in the bus for the ride to the airport.
As mentioned earlier, the airport and the check-in process was purely uncoordinated chaos. Everyone was trying to get through the lines outside but when we got inside, there were nowhere near enough seats and barely standing room. Thankfully, the new terminal should have resolved those problems by the time anyone reads this, so I’ll skip any further details.
The flight home was reasonably comfortable for coach seats and, although we certainly enjoyed our trip, we were glad to get home. Of course, we were already planning our next major trip. More on that later….
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