All content was accurate when this story was published in August 2010.
The company's five-day cruise through the Grenadines, offered since November 2009, intrigued me for several reasons. The chain of small islands, each with its own distinct character and local flavor, is known as a sailor's Mecca -- and is off limits to larger vessels that simply can't dock in the tiny ports. I couldn't wait to visit some of the secluded beaches that only sailors can access and – even better – to stargaze while listening to the water lap the side of the boat.
The ease of a barefoot cruise hit me as soon as I started packing. The company's website warned that space would be tight, and that we should only take essentials in duffle-style bags. I laid out my clothes on the bed and realized that I needed nothing more than T-shirts, shorts and a swimsuit. "Is this really it?" I asked my husband (the type of guy who lives in flip flops, he was sulking a bit because his work schedule prevented him from coming). "What else are you going to need?" he replied. I threw in a sweatshirt and a sundress, just in case.
Starting the Vacation
As a solo traveler, I had been assigned room number 1, in the front of the ship. The cabin was about what I expected from the company's website: While tight, the room had an upper and a lower berth, a hazy porthole, and several drawers and hooks to place belongings (although I felt a little relieved that my 6'5" husband wasn't there to share the space with me).
As I waited, I talked with Cindy Basham, one of the Island Windjammers principals, who had recently moved to Grenada as the company's vice president of operations. Cheery and efficient, she took my passport so she could handle the paperwork as we crossed between Grenada and
& the Grenadines during the week. I also met our captain, Matt Thomas, a veteran of the Windjammers Barefoot Cruises who a fellow traveler had once dubbed "Captain McDreamy." Cindy told me that most of the Diamant's crew members had worked for the original Windjammers in some capacity, and that other alums were also clamoring for positions.
I needn't have worried. Although my fellow passengers skewed older (average age was 63), they definitely were not shrinking violets. We spent the first night consuming a delicious buffet dinner and a few glasses of wine before Gloria, an outgoing widow who splits her time between St. Augustine and Maine, suggested a late night swim at the Port Louis Marina swimming pool. So what if the swim meant crashing a cocktail party held by the St. George's University vet school? This is when I knew our group would get along just fine.
The Diamant was slated to lift anchor at 5 a.m. Sure enough, I heard every creak and moan of the anchor from my front cabin. Cindy had warned us to take our seasickness remedies, as the first day's passage between Grenada and its sister island Carriacou took place over open water. But I wasn't quite prepared for how much the boat started to rock. As my world started tilting, I went above deck to stare at the horizon and calm my stomach.
Once we were through the worst of it, chief steward Brandon rang the bell. "Storytime!" he shouted. A tradition carried over from Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, Storytime is the designated time when Capt. Matt explains the day's itinerary to us (necessary, as our sail didn't always follow the one that was posted on cruise line's website). The bell also summoned us to meals, which were either served inside the Diamant's gleaming wood saloon or on an outdoor dining table at the back of the boat, which Brandon and the others thoughtfully covered during the heat of the day.
Once we arrived on the beach, we were free to do as we pleased. With Janet, a nurse-practitioner from South Carolina and Sally, a university lecturer from Worcester, England, we put on our gear and snorkeled out to a reef at the end of the beach, where we watched parrot fish dart among the coral and schools of small fish swim by us. Later, we relaxed and drank beer and sodas from the cooler that dinghy operators Troy and Aubrey so thoughtfully brought over for us. Several fell asleep until it was time to return for dinner on board.
This unpredictability is supposed to be part of the charm of an Island Windjammers cruise. I'm not so sure I agree. The company's website lists the glamour island of Mustique as a stop, and on our first night, Cindy described a possible barbecue on its world-famous Macaroni Beach. But our anchor problems meant that we needed to make a longer stop in Bequia and, at one point, the entire last day of cruise was almost jeopardized, before Matt decided the anchor could handle overnight docking. While none of the other passengers mentioned the Mustique outing's absence, I was a bit disappointed.
The swimming wasn't only restricted to the island beaches. The Diamant boasted a swim ladder and we were encouraged to jump off the side to cool off when we were anchored. But why simply leap when you can fling yourself, Tarzan-style, off an old-fashioned rope swing? I was a little scared the first time I hopped up on the side of the boat, holding on to the twisted rope. But I take the dare when it's given, and swung out into the water, making sure to let go. While my splash caused my bathing suit to rise up uncomfortably, I came up laughing and scrambled up the stairs to go again. Eventually, others joined me – including several in the above-70 set.
For our final night, Capt. Matt planned a lobster dinner, and I used the occasion to pull my sundress out of my drawer. We docked back in Port Louis Marina in Grenada, and yearbook-style, signed each other's maps of the Grenadines that Island Windjammers gave us as a parting gift. After dinner, several of us disembarked and headed to the Marina bar, where we coerced the bartenders to play dance music for us late into the night.
--Images courtesy of Island Windjammers.