Twenty-four strangers sailed out of Sint Maarten on 23 March 2014. Six days later, 24 friends bade each other an emotional farewell on the same dock, promising to see each other again. The Caribbean is a magic place. Seeing it on a small three-masted schooner made it more magical. The crew of the Sagitta made it perfect.
I was never interested in taking a cruise on a floating city. The only other cruise I had been on was an Alaska Inside Passage cruise on the sternwheeler, Empress of the North, with about 320 other passengers. When my wife said she and her sister wanted to go on a cruise together, I told her I didn't want a megaliner. In her inimitable style, she said, "You in charge, Bubba."
There are a bunch of small ship cruises in the Caribbean. I had always wanted to take a trip on a sailing ship, so I started sorting through the windjammer cruises. I also wanted some stops at some of the more out-of-the-way islands. The two wants led me to a 6-day island-hopping jaunt along the Leewards aboard the Sagitta.
So, let's run the checklist:
Hotel: We stayed two nights at the Pasanggrahan ( pasa-grahn ) (you don't even want to know how badly I was butchering that one). Very nice. Simple, comfortable, great staff, right on Front Street and the boardwalk.
Ship: The Sagitta is a 120-ft three-masted schooner with a 22-ft beam. It has cabins for 11 couples and two singles. There are two lounges, one on the main deck and one right below it, plus there are booths for dining and lounging on the aft deck. The fore deck had plenty of chairs and loungers. When a dinghy leaves a million dollar yacht and swings by your boat to get a closer look, you know you're something special.
Activities: That would be you. And your fellow passengers. No rockwalls or hot tubs or tai chi classes. Lots of old-fashioned sitting and chatting, making new friends, telling all your best stories and listening to some really good new ones. There's a cooler of cold beer on the aft deck and wine in the fridge in the lounge to help with the story-telling. There is swinging from the yards on request. A rope swing from the yardarm of the main mast where you swing along the side of the ship and let yourself go into the incredibly blue waters of the Caribbean. You have to be plain foolish to try that when you're in your 70s, so I quit after my third swing.
Service: Good service is unobtrusive. Ours must have been excellent, because I have little to comment on. Cabins were tidied every morning after everyone was out and about. The coolers and the fridge were always stocked. The lounge had a "magic sink" where any dirty dish or glass magically disappeared when put there. The meals were served promptly and efficiently. There were only 24 of us and we were a pretty low-maintenance crowd.
Port and shore excursions: We stopped at Anguilla, Nevis, St. Kitts, and St. Barth. Leah, Sagitta's Operations Manager, had excursions lined up at each port for those who wanted them. Most were island tours at a fairly nominal charge. On St. Kitts, quite a few of the company took advantage of the opportunity to zip-line through the rain forest. Shoal Bay on Anguilla is touted as the most beautiful beach in the Caribbean. I don't have enough experience to compare, but I can't imagine one any more beautiful. Georgetown on Nevis is a small, unpretentious town with only a little shopping. Basseterre on St. Kitts is the largest town we visited with many nice shops and a modern shopping area. Gustavia on St. Barthelemy is very French, very chic, and very expensive. Most made a point to stop by Le Select which is relatively less expensive and is reputed to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet's Cheeseburger in Paradise. Wherever we were, the crew usually ran a dinghy to and from the boat hourly to shuttle us and our goodies. On St. Kitts, our dinner was a barbeque on the beach at the Shiggidy Shack with dancing to steel drums afterwards.
Cabin: Small (10x10, or so). Double bed with a single bunk over it. Plenty of space to hang and stow your clothes and stuff. My wife has big boat experience and said the bathroom was the same size as most she had seen. Very comfortably air-conditioned with a small fan to keep the air moving. I have no complaints. How much room do you need to change out of your swimsuit into your shorts? Or, to take those off and flop into bed?
Dining: I gained three pounds. What can I say? It's all Lenny's fault. Lenny- big, black, with a 1000-watt grin and a magician in the tiny galley. No really fancy food- roast pork, lobster tail, mahi-mahi, stewed pumpkin, conch salad, eggs benedict. Ok, a little fancy, maybe. All served with the Lenny touch. There were several in the crowd who were experienced chefs and one professional chef. They all took notes of the special little touches Lenny had worked with his dishes. Late afternoon was snacks in the lounge. Fish fritters, Fried plantain or breadfruit, thin as potato chips, great dips with fresh veggies. At St. Barth, Leah scored about a dozen baguettes and about half a dozen cheeses and pates as only the French can make them. This was a BYOW(ine) snack party and we sampled the variety that each had brought back from Gustavia. Lenny said he's working on a cookbook and we all will be looking for it. There's no non-stop eating here, but the meals are healthy and delicious.
Disembarkation: Piece of cake. We all settled up with Leah the afternoon before we got back to Sint Maarten. On-board expenses were light, considering that the beer and wine were complementary the whole trip. A couple of excursions, some souvenirs, and tips for the crew. She helped arrange transportation for those who needed it. The next day, we got our passports and a hug and began our sad journey back to reality.
Summary: If you've thought it would be fun to stand barefoot on the deck of a sailing ship with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face and the sails popping overhead, you're right. It is. On the Sagitta, you get the fun of the adventure without the discomfort. You need to be able to entertain yourself, to enjoy the company of friends you're still learning about, to roam the streets of small, quaint towns with a friend or two. I don't know about children. Our crowd were all older, many retired. The Sagitta is big enough to ride the waves in comfort. We had one night that was a little bumpy, but most everyone enjoyed the ride. She is small enough that you get the real feel of what sailing must have been like a couple of centuries ago. I would do it again in a heartbeat.