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Sail Windjammer’s S/V Mandalay
Ahoy to Happiness on the High Seas!

by Susan Campbell

I f you were born to be barefoot like me, you’ll rejoice at the opportunity to explore the Caribbean sans footwear aboard the S/V Mandalay.

“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…”

Funny how I still remember all the words to the poem ‘Sea Fever’ by John Masefield though I’d not heard it since grade school. But it evoked such a strong calling to the sea for me that I committed it to memory back then. So when I recently had the chance to actually sail on a tall ship- the Windjammer SV Mandalay through the West Indies- it actually felt like a homecoming.

Where the winds takes you…

The Mandalay is a 236-ft. wooden vessel called a “windjammer” that sleeps up to 58 people. But as to where you are going? That’s not always set in stone. Captain Sly has one hard and fast rule when it comes to destinations: you are not to ask where we are going or when will get there! So much depends on the wind and the weather, but the itinerary for this region is basically to get onboard in St. Maarten and then sail to St. Barths, Anguilla, Nevis, St. Kitts, and an uninhabited satellite island like Tintamarre near St. Maarten and then dock back at Great Bay.

I already knew all of these islands very well from past travels except for St. Barths. So while there, after our beach time at beautiful Colombier, I sought out “Le Select” the famous café that was apparently Jimmy Buffet’s inspiration for his “Last Cheeseburger in Paradise” anthem. But I prefer to be in the sea, so I didn’t do many excursions all week.

I’m a snorkel fanatic, so I was delighted that each stop included beach time somewhere and a chance to do so. (They will rent you equipment for the week.) And there was usually a great beach bar nearby like “Sunshine’s” in Nevis where you can see the resident monkeys while you enjoy their famous “Killer Bees” (potent rum cocktails). Or the legendary Elvis’s Beach bar in Sandy Ground, Anguilla for great fare and cocktails. But though some of the beaches were secluded and accessible only by boat, we were also well taken care of by our fabulous bartender “Mash-Up” who brought drinks ashore.

Excursions included activities like horseback riding, snorkel safaris aboard a catamaran, ATV tours, guided island explorations by bus or van and more, all run by local operators. You also have the option to dine ashore each night at a place of your choosing and the launch will drop you off and pick you up at a specified time. (Dinner cost and taxis not included.)

Why barefoot is better…

If you’re the kind of traveler that likes to get all gussied up for dinner, then this is not the cruise for you. But for me, the beauty of being able to go barefoot at all times and relax in such a cottage country style of vibe with fellow passengers was incredible. Rolling out of bed each morning for hot coffee and warm pastries on deck with my fellow tribe of pajama-clad travellers was awesome. “Boat hair, don’t care!” became our slogan. And make-up? Forget about it! It was so rejuvenating.

All meals were served community style at big tables where you could play musical chairs at different meals to get to know everyone better. Food wise, it was never super fancy, but seriously impressive was the quality of the comfort fare they managed to serve to our band of ravenous scallywags from that tiny galley. Our chef “Boston” was awesome. And the games also really bonded everyone together. Battle of the sexes, scavenger hunts and the like… we were pitted against each other for fun and prizes on deck almost every day.

Another great bonding time was the daily rum swizzle and snack party at happy hour, and the gala barefoot masquerade party was definitely the highlight of the activities. Costumes are supplied, and dancing with absolute abandon is de rigueur. (Ask Captain Sly to do his Michael Jackson routine, and make sure your camera is well charged for taking that video!)

Some highlights…

It was the most poignant moments that really cemented my relationship to the sailor’s life, the ship, and the sea on this voyage. The raising of the magnificent billowing sails to “Amazing Grace”- and an interesting story behind that song’s ties to the sea will be shared by the captain- was one of those moments. And the guests are encouraged to help hoist them as well.

This event occurred four instances during our sail, but my favorite time was in middle of the night in the pitch dark with stars as big as golf balls that seemed right within my grasp. I could see how the ancient mariners could easily set their course accurately through celestial navigation, no GPS required.

Another moment was the official firing of the “cannon” on a cruise ship as we entered St. Barth’s harbor. The cannon is tiny, but the blast is LOUD and the startled looks from the passengers on their snazzy decks as we threatened to attack them were hysterical. We were all pirates that day.

Is the barefoot sailor’s life for you?

Like the tides, this type of small ship cruising has its high points and low points, and seasickness can be an issue so you should bring something just in case. I was lucky to get my sea legs rather quickly, and enjoyed the journey immensely. And be forewarned there is no W-Fi! In our constantly tethered-to-tech world, the enforced digital detox was tough for me at first. But you can easily find free Internet at local beach bars when you go ashore each island.

And though the tropical weather and the stunning beauty of the islands are definitely a big part of the allure, I found that it was the people-crew and guests alike- that made this trip ultra special. It’s a wonderful stress-free way to see the Caribbean. And as Masefield’s poem goes…

“I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.”

So thanks S/V Mandalay and crew, hope to set sail with you again soon as now I am chronically afflicted with ‘Sea Fever’.


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