Journey to the Caribbean Sea

By 1985 I had developed a real love of sailing and had a desire to do ever more. I had seen the Windjammer cruise ads and wanted to take such a trip. I felt that the thrill of sailing a large boat would be unique. So I scheduled a trip during the spring of 1985 on the ship Polynesia, sailing out of Phillipsburg, St. Martin in the West Indies. This was about 18 degrees latitude, the same as Puerto Rico.

I left about 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, flying through Miami, then direct to St. Martin, but stopping on the island of Anguilla. We landed at St. Martin about 1:00 p.m.; then, I caught a taxi to the dock in Phillipsburg along with several people from Chicago. We then took a launch to the boats anchored in the bay. Later they assigned us cabins and found our way around the ship. I shared a room with a guy from St. Louis which worked out nicely-much better than the bachelor quarters where six people shared one room and one bath!

The next day we took launches into the town of Phillipsburg and did some shopping. The island of St. Maarten is divided into two sides, Dutch and French. They call the capital of the French side Marigot. The Dutch side is more developed compared to the French side. That afternoon we sailed into the bay at Marigot. A big deal was made of sailing. They played the theme song of the ship, Amazing Grace while they were raising the sails. It was quite impressive. I bought some ear plugs to keep out the noise since we were close to the bar and the music. The cabins were highly air conditioned and quite cold, you needed a blanket to sleep comfortably.

Marigot on the French side was quite small and less developed compared to the Dutch side of the island. There was a boat there with three outboards at more than 200 HP each contrasting with a broken-down van with four flat tires next to the dock. I had a cup of very dark and strong coffee there.

Then we set sail again north to the British island of Anguilla. Arriving the next morning at Anguilla I missed breakfast, but not story time at which the captain described the days events. The captain of the ship (John) was a tall blond man from Liverpool, helped by a first mate of local extraction, a nurse, a purser, and the other crew members. One interesting character was the sailmaker known as Eddie. He was an older fellow with a long beard and leather-like skins who spent all of his time repairing sails.

Anguilla was a poor island which I did not particularly like. Some people went out to Shoal beach or Sandy Island for the days but I just stayed on the original beach and went through some of the shops there. There were some freighter vessels being off loaded at the dock. An overturned freighter was lying on its side in the harbor the evidence of hurricane Klaus. They named the ship's cat for this hurricane! During the trip I saw several nice sailboats holed, a very disturbing site.

That night we set sail for St. Barth a French island south of St. Maarten. I met more very nice friends from Chicago. The next morning we took a taxi ride around this island. We marveled at the airport, where you had to clear a "saddle" to land. There were many sheep in areas resembling Ireland. Some of the older women in our mini-van compared this island to every part of Europe. It was quite hilarious! It was very windy at overpasses where they were constructing houses and you could see that they should never need air conditioning. The town was very French with dogs wandering through the restaurants and bars. We had a couple of beers in one bar where dogs just kept wandering through the crowd! There was one shop where they displayed a No-Chickens sign. We went to a shell beach consisting of small shells instead of sand. It began to rain while we were still on the island but we had to take the launch back anyway. I put my shirt in a waterproof bag on the way back. The people in our launch got seasick and it was pretty rough getting back to our ship!

Setting sail that night in stormy weather, we reached the island of St. Kitts the next morning. St. Kitts and the nearby island of Nevis gained their independence from Britain and are now members of the United Nations. There was a tour of this island including lunch at the Frigate Bay hotel for $18. Interestingly you had to take a taxi there first. There was a tall chap in charge of taxi assignments. He used a swagger stick and was quite impressive. The line of taxi drivers must have been a quarter of a mile long.

Arriving at the hotel about 10:00 a.m., I jogged a few laps around the pool prior hoarding the bus. Unfortunately this bus was crowded far more than it should have been. The island has a lot of sugar cane production and a small-gauge railroad to transport the cane. We passed through several poor villages and an industrial park which the driver pointed out excessively. On the way to Carribe Batik we passed some of the poorest houses I saw on this trip --no running water -- these were similar to those encountered in Mexico. Carribe Batik was a small factory (no larger than a four-room house) where they made batiks resembling silk screens but done on cotton. The factory was in a veritable rain forest. There were strange trees with long trailing vines. Leaving the factory we drove to a huge fort called Brimstone Hill on top of a mountain with a commanding view. This fort had really excellent stonework, some of the best I have ever seen. It was a very large fort with water cisterns and cannon.

That afternoon everyone went back to Frigate bay to have lunch and I walked over to the Caribbean and Atlantic side of the beaches with the Chicago crowd. The Caribbean side was calm with little surf noise but the Atlantic side was wild and noisy with tremendous surf. That evening several of us stayed on the island for dinner at a restaurant located right on the beach. It featured broiled fish and lobster at about $10. This was a fantastic meal made even better by the sea blowing in from the harbor. It got cool and fortunately I had brought my heavy long sleeved shirts and a jacket which I shared with the group. But what an exhilarating dinner! Watching the ships at sea off the rocks behind the restaurant and seeing the town lighted up was really nice. We drove by an ice cream shop and bought the driver an ice cream cone!

After setting sail at midnight we encountered some rough seas and several people got sick. A sail boat does not rock from side to side like a motor vessel because of the wind pressure on the sails, but you still get the swells. I was awakened early the next morning by these bow swells and got up to see what the sea was like. We were sailing toward the mysterious island of Saba "the Dutch roc." (3000 feet high). After coffee I took the helm for about an hour. This was really an experience to see the surging seas and feel the full expanse of the ship plunging through the swells! Up and down? Up and down! It was hypnotic and frankly this was the closest to feeling queasy that I experienced throughout the trip.

As we approached the island of Saba, we could tell that it was completely different from any of the others we had visited. It had no harbor to speak of and it was practically solid rock, straight up from the seabed. It had no beaches. We had to anchor on the leeward side and take the launches a long way around to the jetty. Once there we split up and took taxis to the two villages on the islands: "The Bottom" and "Windward" they built these towns on rock with just a bit of dirt for growing. I bought a wooden plaque of the Caribbean for $20. This was a Dutch island and they said that the Dutch (from a flat Country) could find no way to build roads. However the locals had built a splendid set of roads here, which were at tremendous grades and of course quite switch backed. Unfortunately our taxi driver said little or nothing and I had to coax him to say anything at all about the place! The villages were very nice, the standard of living seemed higher than at any other place we had visited. The houses were nicely decorated and well kept with gardens and playgrounds for the Children. Also, the roads were much better here as compared to St. Maarten.

Prior to lunch, I walked up the mountain, which had more than one thousand steps the top. I didn't make it because I was running out of time and I met some people that said the top was fogged in.

We had an imported (from the ship) lunch at a hotel there known as the Captain Quarters. This hotel was exceptionally nice with an incredible view of the Caribbean. They brought in a banjo band which was quite good we all sat by the pool and just drank the spectacular view of the sea far below. I don't think that anyone from the Polynesia wanted to leave the place but we had only a little time left so we took taxis see the airport. This one was even worse that the one at St. Kitts. The Saba airport appeared be the size as an aircraft carrier deck! It was right on the sea with no land on either approach. It was an incredible site from high up in the mountains!

Taking the launches back to the Polynesia was getting more difficult now because everyone knew that the trip was drawing its end. The next morning we docked in the now familiar port of Phillipsburg at St. Maarten. We all said our goodbyes to sad music (similar to Club Med) and left at various times on launches. After the first launch left with friends from Chicago we all watched the planes take off. Then a tremendous rain shower came up. I took a later launch into Phillipsburg and did some shopping. This had been a fantastic trip, probably the next best to those I experienced in Egypt. I left for the Dawn Beach hotel that afternoon. It was on the other side (northeast) of the island and was quite similar to a Club Med in design and landscaping beauty. I stayed on the beach that afternoon and had dolphin for dinner and regrettably left the next morning for Atlanta.

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