An interlude from the urban metropolis. Check. Warm, clear waters on balmy Caribbean islands. Check. Sailing for a week on the largest and only five-masted, square rigger ship in the world built since the last century, check, check and check.
With my checklist complete, I boarded Star Clippers’ Royal Clipper in Barbados along with 225 mostly European passengers. Built in 2000, the Royal Clipper is 402 feet long and has 42 sails with a mast height of 162 feet. The draft is 16.8 feet and the ship has 18,900 square feet of open deck. There is a restaurant, three bars, a small library and small gym that weds sailing tradition for sailors-at-heart with modern comforts for those less nautically inclined.
Setting sail the first evening was dramatically beautiful. Standing on the top deck, the sails were lit against the Caribbean’s dark night skies. The colors shifted from vibrant pink hues to turquoise blue. It was made even more powerful when the song “Conquest of Paradise” was piped in from Ridley Scott’s 1992 movie “1492.” With this breathtaking commencement, the sailing adventure had officially launched.
With 100 crew members hailing from 17 countries, an international flavor was cast. Filipino Chef Armando Rueda did a good job of keeping everyone culinarily pleased. This included one of my regular dining partners who required gluten-, dairy- and seafood-free meals.
Daily exercise classes kept the calories at bay, and there were opportunities to partake in activities unique to a sailing vessel not found on an ocean or river cruise, such as mast climbing. While I am not seriously fond of heights, I tried my hand anyway. Climbing 50-feet up the rope ladder to the rig’s first platform — with a safety harness — I scaled up with relative ease.
On the platform, the 84-year-old father of a new acquaintance who scaled up just before me wanted to know, only partially in jest, where the martinis were. For me, scaling back down was a tad more nerve wracking, chiefly because I had to remove one hand off the ropes to loosen the safety cinch to descend. Only later did I realize I could have simply kept my left hand on the cinch while descending to release it.
Our first stop was on the northwest coast of St. Lucia at Rodney Bay, named after British Naval Officer George Rodney. Several battles against France were fought utilizing a fort built at Pigeon Island on the bay’s outer boundary. Here the movements of France’s naval base on nearby Martinique could be viewed. Long, white, sandy beaches and plenty of cafés and restaurants made for a lovely day at this picturesque place.
The next stop was Cabrits on Dominica. Discovered by Christopher Columbus on a Sunday, thus the name Dominica, it’s the most mountainous island in the eastern Caribbean. The last of the Caribbean islands to be colonized, first by France then England, Dominica achieved its independence in 1978. Two years later it elected the Caribbean’s first female prime minister, Mary Eugenia Charles, who remained
in power for 15 years.
From the port, I walked to Cabrits National Park. Here a plethora of lush hiking trails in the 1,313-acre park and the restored English garrison, Fort Shirley, made for an interesting afternoon.
Built in the 18th century to defend the northern part of Dominica, Fort Shirley once consisted of more than 50 buildings and housed over 600 men. Of particular note, inside one of the restored buildings was a plaque commemorating the March 24, 1607 landing of 144 Englishmen. Two months later those Englishmen arrived at Jamestown, Va., marking the first permanent English settlement beyond the British Isles. The rest of course became U.S. history.
The next stop was Antigua, also known as Waladli/Wadadli, signifying “our own” to locals. An independent state since 1981, Antigua’s sister island of Barbuda tragically was in the news in September 2017 when Hurricane Irma completely destroyed it. All Barbudans were evacuated to Antigua and locals I spoke to said “the aftermath resembled total devastation.”
On the southernmost side of Antigua is Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2016, it’s an excellent example of a Georgian naval dockyard. Fortifications around nearby English Harbor provided the British Navy with a secure base to maintain control of the trade-oriented colonies. And the surrounding hills and narrow winding inlet protected the Dockyard from trade winds and the open sea. There is a good 30-minute walking tour of the Dockyard and an informative maritime museum.
At Antigua’s Pigeon Beach, the Royal Clipper’s culinary team put out a beachfront barbecue lunch. Sated as only a barbecue can, I jumped on an excursion to the west coast’s Jolly Beach and had my hand at Reef Riding in a vehicle that’s a cross between a jet ski and a speedboat that can carry a maximum of two people. Its 25-horsepower engine produced an adrenaline-induced kick as I speedily traversed the coast getting completely soaked during a tropical downpour at sea.
After dinner on board the Royal Clipper, a talented Antigua steel band perfectly completed an enjoyable day.
St. Kitts, the first English settlement in the Leeward Islands, along with nearby Nevis, became an independent nation in 1983. Docking at St. Kitts’ Basseterre allowed passengers to satisfy any retail therapy needs in this duty free port. Jewelery and perfume stores are conveniently located, and bargaining is the order of the day.
Our penultimate stop was at Terre-de-Haut in the Iles des Saintes, also known as Les Saintes, which are dependencies of nearby Guadeloupe, a French overseas department, and were discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493; the French arrived in the mid-1600s. Many battles then were fought, including the 1782 campaign between Admirals Rodney and Francois de Grasse that resulted in several decades of British rule.
Terre-de-Haut is small, just six square miles of beautiful, sandy beaches with marvelous snorkeling and diving and Le Bourg’s beachfront cafes and restaurants. It’s best seen by foot, electric bicycle or motorcycle.
Uphill from Le Bourg is the 19th century Fort Napoleon that during World War II became a political prisoner detention center. Restored in 1980, it now houses a museum and its grounds contain magnificent flora and cruising iguanas that add to the breathtaking, sweeping Caribbean views.
Our final day was spent on the southwest side of Martinique at Grand Anse. A few cafés and restaurants lined the small beach that had great snorkeling.
Sailing back toward Barbados, I thought of the courageous sailors who traversed these distant waters on far less comfortable vessels with only rudimentary maps and a seagoing spirit in pursuit of the New World. As I climbed into crisp, clean sheets after dinner where the crew serenaded guests with “We are the World” while waving international flags, I was glad to instead have experienced sailing the Caribbean on the Star Clipper’s Royal Clipper.
SAILING, IF YOU GO
Star Clippers has several seven-day voyages in the Caribbean on the Royal Clipper for 2019-20 starting at $2,260 per person plus port charges. Tel 800/442-0551, www.Starclippers.com
A good spot to stop pre- or post-cruise in Barbados is Cobblers Cove, a Relais & Chateau designated small hotel located on a peaceful and beautiful beach near Speightstown. Tel 246/422-2291, www.cobblerscove.com
Julie L. Kessler is a travel writer, attorney and legal columnist based in Los Angeles and the author of the award-winning book “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com. Some vendors included in this article hosted the writer, however they did not review content prior to publication. Opinions contained herein are solely those of the writer.