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Windjammer Barefoot Cruises

Fantome

by Dean Dey

21-Day Caribbean Repositioning Cruise
November 1997


South East Across the Caribbean!

This review covers the November 1997 repositioning cruise of the S/V Fantome. This was to be our 12th-14th week on Windjammer. We also sailed the previous month in Belize on Fantome, so it was a little unusual to sail again so soon.

Sunday, November 2

BWI - Playa del Carmen

As usual, we had to leave for the airport early, about 4:45 am this time. After an uneventful trip, we arrived at BWI (Baltimore-Washington International) at 6:45 and were checked in my 7am! This was indeed record time! The flight to Houston on Continental was fairly uneventful, although a little rough. We had to rush in changing planes in Houston, with just a 35-minute time window. Anyway, we were quickly on our way southeast to Cancun.

Cancun has a fairly large terminal, and we eventually moved through it. Once clearing immigration, we encountered a stoplight operated by Customs. You pushed a button, and if the light turned green, you passed right through. Apparently, once in a while it comes up red, and your bags get a closer examination. I didn't see it turn red, and the customs people were standing around; maybe there was a guy behind a curtain making the decisions. Louise, whom we had met 3 years before on our Venezuelan trip on Fantome, met us in the lobby. In chatting, we learned she was down for just a short time, and wouldn't be sailing with us.

Once we all gathered, we left the airport in a standard mini van, and got out on the main road for Playa Del Carmen, where Fantome was anchored. Just outside of town, we passed through an Army checkpoint (with armed soldiers and a sandbagged emplacement).

The road to Playa Del Carmen was quite good, and went through what seemed to be flat, wet limestone country, much like South Florida. From the van, we could see lots of scrub, and houses with thatched roofs mixed in with styles that are more contemporary. There were also a lot of unfinished and falling-down buildings along the way. We were all amused by the billboards along the road. Here we were in a developed, yet remote corner of Mexico, and seeing ads for McDonalds, Wendy's, KFC and even Wal-Mart!!!!!

FantomeWe arrived at the dock used by the ferry to Cozumel. After dropping our bags off, some of the passengers went into the nearby Senor Frogs to wait for the launch. Others walked along the new pedestrian mall, but being Sunday, many things were closed. As we waited, a big ferry came in to unload passengers from Cozumel. Then our launch came, and we went out to the Fantome, just a short distance offshore. We soon had swizzles in hand and our shoes off.

Since I had sailed only a month before, it seemed strange. Everyone was surprised to see us, although they knew we were coming. There were a few changes in the officers and staff. Annie was back as Purser, and her little sister, Laura, was now the Activities Mate, and staying with Windjammer. Kristine had stayed in Honduras, her home. As the trip went on, other changes occurred: Fantome added new staff, and some of the experienced crew was transferred to Legacy. (Laura would go to Amazing Grace at the end of the trip).

We were shown to Cabin 61, down on the C Deck, which is the lowest passenger deck, below the waterline. This cabin was in the same companionway as last month, but more in the middle of the ship, which proved to be a very good location for a smooth ride. The cabin was typical, with the private head/shower, and a double bed. Joanne was our steward, and she did a great job with the room.

As we mixed with the passengers, it became apparent that of the 102 aboard, all but four were experienced WJ'ers, and most were SeaDogs. About 85% of the passengers were retired, which I suspect is typical for such a long trip. We met only two people we know we had sailed with before: Donna and Gordon, from Concord. The age difference didn't make any difference, but then, all Windjammers know that.

That evening on deck, we watched nearby thunderstorms over the mainland, but it never rained. Most of the passengers turned in early, so by 11 p.m. it was very quiet.

Throughout the trip, things tended to end earlier than on a week long trip. There was also a feeling that things didn't have to be rushed ... after all, we had three weeks!!

 

Monday Nov 3

Cozumel

It rained overnight, and we awoke to find it cloudy. That morning we saw our first cruise ships, the Imagination and Emerald Isle (the former Dolphin IV), come in and let off passengers in Playa Del Carmen. We took that as our cue to set sail, so at 7 am, we set sail for the short trip to San Miguel, Cozumel.

As we sailed, I looked at the chart and was surprised how deep it was, even though we were within sight of land. We anchored off Cozumel around 9 am. It was even a little windier and looked threatening, so we decided to walk in town for a while, and come back to the ship for lunch, then go to a beach in the afternoon.

San Miguel Map

In town, we saw that the shops and goods were similar to other Mexican towns we had visited in the past. San Miguel was cleaner than other places we had been in, however. We walked around for awhile and noticed a number of American franchises among the Mexican shops. As we passed the town square, we stopped to watch some type of commercial being filmed. One thing that struck us was for awhile, at least, sales people did not accost us on the sidewalk. However, as the morning went on, we began to be approached more often, in typical Mexican style, even in front of shops that had ignored us earlier. Maybe the arrival of cruise ship passengers changed the attitude.

We went back to the ship at lunchtime. The launch ride was rough, and it was still cloudy and windy. Rather than going to the beach, we stayed aboard. We learned that this was the right decision, as those that went snorkeling found it all but impossible due to the wind and rain.

We set sail for Grand Cayman at 11 p.m. to the sounds of "Amazing Grace." Those on the last launch had a rough ride in, but since most were coming from Carlos & Charlie's, I don't think they noticed.

Tuesday November 4

Storm At Sea

As soon as I woke up Tuesday, I knew it was going to be a different day. Just laying in the bunk, I could feel the ship riding out big waves. When I got to the deck, I could see it was a cloudy day, with the wind blowing maybe 35 mph. The seas were 8-10 feet, and spray was coming over the bridge when we came down off a wave. That meant the bow and stern were swinging through an arc of maybe 20 feet. It was a wild ride!!

I went on deck, and enjoyed the weather for a while. Riding the waves and standing up to the wind were very tiring. I enjoyed the weather for a while, had breakfast, then went back down to the cabin and read for an hour.

Back on deck, I could see that many of the passengers and crew were feeling the effects of the rough seas. By lunchtime, the seas were up to 12 feet. Sam, the chief steward, was the only one of the steward crew that was functional. In fact, Sam was doing all the work in the salon, and literally holding the place together. We had pizza for lunch, and the plates, glasses and pans were flying all over the place. Drawers and cabinets were popping open, and the contents were skittering across the floor. It made for an exciting lunch!!

The day wore on. I would go on deck for a while and then down to the smooth ride of my cabin and read, which was about the most comfortable place on the ship. By dinner time, the seas had begun to subside quite a bit, but it was still rough. There was only one seating for dinner, and that was somewhat late. Most of the crew and passengers had yet to recover.

Wednesday, November 5

At Sea

This day dawned partly sunny with much more moderate seas, maybe four feet, which is pretty normal for open waters. There was still some pitching, but on the whole it was a much more pleasant day.

Passengers began coming out on deck, which was a very good sign. The sun felt wonderful. About 10 a.m. the Captain decided to have a Story time, and tell us what was planned for the trip. Many of us had hoped to stop at the remote Swan Islands, but we learned it was too far off our course.

There were a few ships on the horizon, including the cruise ships we had seen in Mexico. There were also some thunderstorms on the horizon, and for a short time we saw a waterspout coming down from one of them. It was the first time I had ever seen one! The weather continued to moderate throughout the day. We even had a brief visit from dolphins! We had a very nice sunset, and could see the moonshine on the water. Things were certainly looking better!!

Thursday, November 6

Grand Cayman

We finally made landfall, and awoke to find ourselves at anchor in the flat calm off Grand Cayman. The captain had expected that we would not be allowed to anchor, since only three cruise ships are allowed to anchor at a time. However, we were given space #4, which is reserved for private yachts and only 1/4 mile off the dock. During the day, a total of fur cruise ships came into the anchorage. It was crazy watching all the launches take people ashore!

If you are going to be in the Caymans, one of the places that is a MUST visit is Stingray City. This is a sandbar on the north side of the island, where people have been feeding the Southern stingrays for many years. Now the creatures are used to people, and come right up to you. Curiously, almost all of the stingrays are female! Stingrays have a spine at the base of the tail, which can deliver a nasty stab wound, but these rarely occur.

The way it works is that the boats anchor in about four feet of water, and let the passengers off. The boat captain is required to give a safety speech before you can get in the water. You are allowed masks and snorkels, but no fins, shoes or gloves. The stingrays are safe as long as you don't grab the tail, the eyes, or step on them (hard to do!). The passengers jump overboard, and the stingrays start swarming around. What attracts them is the squid everyone brings. As you get in the water, all you hear are the shrieks and laughing from the other boats that arrived earlier. The stingrays are already gathering around the boat anticipating being fed. Putting your face in the water, you see the clearest water I can remember, lots of legs, and LOTS of stingrays, up to five feet in diameter!

The rays come right up to you, and if you have a hunk of squid in your hand, they will suck it up! One even got my finger (the same one the eel got) in there too, but they don't have teeth, just sandpapery jaws. The rays will rub against you, searching for more food. I even had one go between my legs like a kid in a swimming pool!. The feel of the skin of the rays is best described as a smooth velvet, unlike the sandpaper skin of their Pacific cousins. Despite the 4-inch blade at the base of the tail, I didn't feel in any danger. The sensation was one of amazement and pleasure.

When we ran out of squid after a half-hour or so, the traitorous stingrays moved off to the next boat. The captain then took us over to a nearby area called the Coral Gardens, an area of very low coral rocks with a good fish population. We spent about a half-hour there. I noticed that in one area the Sargent Majors were very dense and active. I attracted them with a handful of sand, which I released slowly through my fingers, making them think it was food, This caused them to swarm around me. I suggested that the captain take bread, crackers or minced squid to feed them, like at Norman's Island in the BVI's. So, if you go to Stingray City, and Fish Feeding is also included, you will know where it started!!

After getting back to the ship for a late lunch, we went back ashore and walked around town. The town is very modern and could be a State-side town. The place is set up for tourists, at least near the docks, and there are lots of activities, in addition to the shopping. One thing we saw was the Atlantis Submarine, and a smaller, yellow, deeper diver. The Atlantis takes a bunch of passengers and goes down about 90 feet. The little yellow job is more of a working sub, probably takes only a couple of passengers, and reaches 350 feet. We saw these submarines at Aruba also.

As we went ashore, we passed a ship's photographer from one of the cruise ships and were asked what ship we were from. When we all answered Fantome, she responded with a very enthusiastic "COOL!"

As most know, the Caymans are known for the offshore banks and businesses. We came across an example of that in town. There was a three-story building, with a building directory listing maybe 300 companies. The building was locked, but peering through the glass into the lobby, I saw a phone with an answering machine attached. Was that all there was to it???

We walked around town for a while, and poked into a few of the shops. One, Colombian Emeralds, was attractive because of its jewelry, and its strong air-conditioning. It was hot in town, and this provided a nice place to wait for the launch! As we walked back along North Dock, we were amused to watch the line of cruise ship passengers trying to get back aboard. Two security guards were outside the gates, telling them on a bullhorn to have their ship's card and a picture ID ready. When I asked our crew about it, the response was "Ah, we know all of you!"

We set sail from Grand Cayman at Swizzle Time. The waters were very calm, and the moon and stars soon came out strong. I was glad to be leaving the bustle of town, and heading toward Jamaica.

Friday, November 7

At Sea

This was a quiet day at sea. It was mostly sunny, and only a slight 2-3 foot swell. The water was glassy with only a slight wind ripple to it. We saw nothing on the horizon most of the day. Since the winds were unexpectedly favorable, (they should have been from the East -- in our face), we were able to have a full set of sails up. What a way to travel!

The Activities Mate has several things planned for the day, including a stretch and tone class, Bingo, an "old" newly-weds game, and a sailing class.

One of the highlights (for me at least) was fishing. Several people had brought hand lines, and one person had a rod and reel. They began trolling off the stern, much as I had done with Captain Max three years before. The amazing thing was we caught fish! We caught three dolphin (the fish, mahi-mahi, not the aquatic mammal) and a 35-pound yellow fin tuna. Each time we got a fish on, the captain would stop the engines to give the fishermen a chance to land them. The tuna was by far the hardest to land.

We sighted Jamaica in the afternoon, and several crew became excited, sighting their home island after being so long away. It has always been the same on sailing vessels! We sailed along the north coast toward our port-of-call, Port Antonio, on the northeast coast. As we sailed, we could see the lights of such famous areas as Montego Bay and Ochos Rios.

Saturday, November 8

Port Antonio, Jamaica

We arrived off Port Antonio, on the northeast Coast of Jamaica about breakfast time, about six hours earlier than we had expected. The day was clear and very pretty. Port Antonio sits at the base of hills that seem to surround it on all sides. Navy Island just offshore protects the anchorage. The entrance into the harbor is through a very narrow channel (maybe 250 feet wide!), between the island and mainland. Captain Guyan came in through the passage and brought us into the United Fruit Company dock in a remarkable show of seamanship. As we pulled in, the US Coast Guard cutter Vigorous, was docked across from us. As we docked, the official pilot showed up (hours late). He watched us, and then told the captain he did a fine job, that there was no need for his services, signed the departure permits, and left!

Port Antonio is a very scenic port. The pretty, small harbour is framed with the Blue Mountains in the background. Errol Flynn once found the port and liked it so much, he bought lots of land in the area. From all the sad tales one hears about Jamaica, this looked like it was one of the nicer areas. We were docked at a small dock in the United Fruit compound, where a ship comes weekly to pick up bananas. We walked in to town, looking for one item. Being Saturday, and market day, the town was very crowded. It was also very hot. Port Antonio isn't really a tourist town, but we wandered the shops for a while, until we found it: Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans. In the US, it is a very hard coffee to find, and when available, starts at $45/pound. We found it selling for $20/pound!

We made it back to the ship in time to avoid the afternoon downpour, which lasted most of the afternoon. We watched the crew unload and stow supplies from a truck-size container that had been sent from Miami. It was a big job, and all hands, even the captain, participated.

People returning from a morning snorkeling reported not very good conditions at the three local areas, Frenchman's Cove, Blue Lagoon and Navy Island. Navy Island had once belonged to Errol Flynn. The divers reported lots of urchins and turtle grass there.

A band came aboard that evening and played on the quarterdeck until late. After a short time, I went up on the bridge and listened to the tree frogs in the hills, one of my favorite Caribbean sounds.

Sunday, November 9

Port Antonio

Monday dawned clear and beautiful. After breakfast, there were three tours available. One was a general tour, including the Blue Lagoon, another was downhill mountain biking. The third was very popular: river rafting. We chose that one. We boarded a bus which took us on the narrow, winding, terrible road up into the mountains. We got off the bus along the banks of the Rio Grande. The river was shallow, and a couple of hundred feet across. As we were now in the rainy season, there was water in it! During the summer, especially August-September, there is barely enough water to float the rafts.Then, the workers will clear a channel for them.

We lined up and were assigned a raft "captain." There are 182 registered captains. We were taken to the raft, a 30-foot bamboo affair made of 11 bamboo logs. It was pointed at one end, and there was a makeshift seat for two in the middle. The "captain" stands at the forward pointy end, and poles the raft downstream. The ride was about 8 miles, and takes almost 3 hours.

We boarded the raft, and pushed off, moving serenely downstream, with the current and the poling of the captain. It was a long, lazy morning and afternoon. There was a lot of bird life and plant life along the river, as well as the occasional house. Mostly though, it was just countryside. We stopped once at a sandbar (actually river rocks), for a quick repair on the raft. A little later, we passed two other sandbars, where there were men selling beer and handicrafts. We pressed on. We also occasionally passed men who were paid to walk/tow rafts back up to the start!

As we drifted downstream, there were occasional small rapids and riffles, which made the ride interesting. We occasionally scraped bottom, but were very secure. One of our group, however, didn't make one turn at the base of a riffle, and ended up with an unexpected swim. The trip ended all the way down at a small bay at the beach, where there were several hundred rafts waiting the return trip. There was a pleasant bar and gift shop at the end of the ride.

As we asked our shipmates how their trip went, we got one response: "GREAT!" --- as they rubbed their rear ends. Sitting on a hard bamboo seat for three hours does that. In spite of the sore rears, it was an altogether pleasant way to spend the day! We boarded the bus and made our way back to the ship. We got aboard, and watched as local government officials made a presentation of a nice inlaid box to the captain and took pictures. We also visited the ten local vendors whom had been specially invited into the compound to display their wares.

We sailed at 5p.m., Swizzle Time. Captain Guyan wanted to make sure we made it out of the narrow channel while there was still plenty of light. We cleared the channel, turned east to clear Jamaica, and then turned southeast for our long trek to Aruba. It was dead calm, the water glassy. There was moonlight, and I could see the reflections of the stars and planets on the water. Because it was so calm, we took the sails down, since they were actually slowing us down!!

Monday, November 10

At Sea

We awoke to find a little breeze, swells from the east, and a slight chop, The sails were up. It was partly cloudy, and pleasant. There was nothing on the horizon! A pleasant morning for sailing. About 9:30, a stretch and tone class was planned. As the hour approached, we ran into a tropical downpour. Several of us used the opportunity to strip to our swimsuits, and enjoy the freshwater shower. As a joke, Laura announced a "Water Aerobics" class, and a bunch of people came up in their swimsuits. One even wore a mask and snorkel! When everyone stopped laughing, they actually did do the stretch and tone class in the downpour! I watched!

The other activities for the day included a Guess the ETA pool, Celestial navigation, a SeaHunt scavenger game, and an Evening PPP party.

During the trip, fishermen hung out on the stern rail and trolled. At one point, we had five passenger lines, and one crew line in the water. Several times during the week, something would hit a line and break it off. Everyone was using 80-100 pound line!

The PPP party in the evening was a good one, with a majority of the passengers participating. I went as Popeye.

We sailed on into the night. The evening was again very calm and glassy. Again the stars reflected in the water.

Tuesday, November 11

At Sea

The morning was mostly clear. The wind was 10-15 knots out of the southeast, the direction we were going. The sails were down because of the unusual wind direction. All through the trip the wind came from unexpected directions! We also had to change our clocks ahead one hour, something we normally don't need to do on Windjammer!

During the morning a Venezuelan (?) marine patrol plane, a US-built P-3, made a fly-by at mast level. It was the first craft of any type we had seen since leaving Jamaica. When you are at sea, anything unusual becomes a big deal!

During the day, we caught more fish, including a 40-pound yellow fin tuna. We also had dolphin join us for awhile, apparently using the ship to help them confuse and catch the numerous flying fish.

Just after Swizzle Time, there was a fashion show, using all the Sea Chest articles. Many of the passengers and crew were the models. Since all the helmsmen were busy, I took the helm for an hour, holding a course of 145. There wasn't much to be worried about out in the middle of the Caribbean!!

Wednesday, November 12

At Sea

Another day at sea!!! Today the wind was blowing a little stronger, and there were whitecaps. More swell and chop. By this time however, no one seemed to be affected. We began to see a ship or two on the horizon, oil tankers mostly, from the refinery at Aruba.

We learned that our ETA in Aruba would be maybe 5 p.m. Most of us had guessed earlier, but the wind and an unseasonable 2-3 knot head current slowed our progress. We finally sighted land about 3:30, but we didn't make it to the dock until 7p.m. The dock was inside a barrier reef, and at the cruise ship terminal. The terminal consisted of two buildings inside a special compound for handling the crowds from the ships. It looked as if several ships could dock at the same time. However, we were the only one there!

After dinner, we walked around town. The town seemed as built up as the Caymans, and main streets look much like any US town, except the narrow streets and a few Dutch street names. There is a large marina, and at least two major casinos. All of the familiar franchises were in place, including McDonald's, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, Senor Frogs, Carlos & Charlie's. My wife joked that if we found a Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors (which we don't have in Southern Delaware) we would have to stop. Sure enough, coming out of a pedestrian mall, across from Senor Frogs, there was one on the corner. Well, we had to go in! All the US flavors were there, and I had my favorite, Mint Chocolate Chip.

There were lots of modern looking shops and hotels along the street, one of which I will mention later. If not for the temperature and humidity, we could have been in any US city, it looked that familiar. Many of the shipmates tried their luck at the casinos or the bars that evening.

Thursday, November 13

Aruba

Morning dawned partly cloudy. November is the rainy season on Aruba, where they get only 20 inches per year. During our two days, they must have gotten five of those inches. Still no cruise ships, though!!

ArubaWe took an island tour, which turned out to be a very comprehensive bus trip around the perimeter of the island. Our driver obviously had done this before. We saw all of the hotels and timeshares, and a short history of each one. In addition, we saw the California Lighthouse at the north end of the island, famous churches, the ruins of the gold mine, Indian Caves, a Natural Bridge (a rock arch on the coast), and Baby Beach. The Indian Caves are upland caves in coral cliffs, which have a few small geometric paintings done by the aboriginal settlers. Unfortunately, they are not protected from the public, and graffiti is becoming more of a problem. Baby Beach (named for the shallow, calm water) is located on the former grounds of the oil refinery, and had it not started raining heavily, would have be a very pleasant place to spend the afternoon.

The geology of Aruba appears to be very complicated, with coral, granite, and volcanic rock mixed seemingly at random. There are also lots of goats and donkeys running wild. The island is very dry, with no natural water. Cactus and scrub are the natural vegetation. Aruba makes its own water, about 14 million gallons a day, by desalinating sea water. There are two golf courses on the island, one using native landscape, and a new one just being finished. The new course is importing soil from the US for its fairways, and water from Venezuela. The greens fees are $125 US on the new course, $25 US on the older course.

One of the popular tours was a jeep tour, which puts four people in an open jeep that joins a caravan of perhaps twenty jeeps. We saw the tours all over the island and they looked like fun, until we saw some of the jeeps AFTER the torrential rains!

On the way back from Baby Beach, I got off the bus in the middle of town, just a short walk from the ship. There, on the third floor of the pedestrian mall, was what I had seen the night before: I went into the Internet Cyber Cafe. They had five computers set up, and for $5 for 30 minutes, I could log in and check my e-mail, and surf the web. I quickly scanned the titles of my 124 new messages, and saw I wasn't fired. I also posted a message on the Windjammer Message Board: http://www.windjammer.com/forum, and sent a couple of quick messages, one to my son at home. I then hurried back to the ship to make the 4 p.m. sailing.

We sailed around the south end of Curacao and then east toward our next port. The moonlit night was very nice. I stayed up just watching the sea. It was very pleasant.

Friday November 14

Bonaire

An interesting phenomenon struck me this morning: I didn't know what day of the week it was!!! This had never happened to me before! There was tomorrow, today and a blur of yesterdays. But what was today??? You know, it really didn't matter!

We arrived in Bonaire about 8 am. The town dock was inside a barrier island on the reef, called Klein Bonaire. We were an immediate hit in town, with locals coming down to watch us dock. Even before we had cleared customs, there was a TV news crew filming the ship. All through the day locals stopped by to look at Fantome, and talk to the crew and passengers. A number of us even passed out brochures on the dock to those who asked. We had a committee of local government officials come aboard to make a pitch to the captain, promoting regular visits to Bonaire.

The town appeared very quaint and with a much stronger traditional Dutch appearance than Aruba. The town was also much smaller, and more intimate than Aruba. It was a very pleasant place to walk around and look into shops. There were tours of the island, dive trips, a beach trip to Klein Bonaire, and shopping in town. All of the shoreline and surrounding waters are a government-protected resource, This is great for the environment, but also meant that we couldn't use our launch to cross over to nearby Klein Bonaire. The tours all went to the south end of the island, where there are salt flats. Some of the salt pans are left natural, and they attract flamingos from close by South America. The flamingo motif is seen throughout the island, including being inlaid into the sidewalks at every corner with river rocks (which must have been imported?).

We went to the Sunset Beach Hotel, which was a short taxi ride from the dock. The beach was nice sand, and there is a beach restaurant/bar and scuba dive shop there. I was puzzled by the way the dive shop operated, until I went snorkeling. I had expected a turtle grass bed, given the anchored boats, and color of the water. However, just 50 yard off the beach, the bottom drops off into deep water, several hundred feet deep! Visibility was at least 100 feet! There was a rock pile near the beach, with lots of fish, which made nice diving.

The divers came back very happy with their day. They had dived with the Dive In, and reports were that it was a first-class operation. They not only had great diving, but the dive boat had a fresh water shower, and a fresh water tank to dunk cameras and regulators. There was another shower ashore. These touches mean a great deal to divers.

We walked around town in the afternoon, and found it to be a very nice friendly town. They do have a number of shops there, and a few small cruise ships come in occasionally.

When it was time to depart, we decided to put on a show for the locals. The wind was right, so we decided to sail away from the dock. We moved a few feet away, and then with "Amazing Grace" at top volume, we raised the sails and sailed smartly way from the dock. We could see the effect on the people on the dock, as they waved and cheered. Soon the police helicopter was circling us, with the news crew in the back filming. Also, a small boat followed us for a while, with the editor of the ABC Island Cruising Guide taking pictures for the cover.

At the end of the day, the passengers, all experienced Windjammers, agreed that Bonaire would be a wonderful port in the WJ style. We even concocted the itinerary that would work. A home port in Aruba (for cheap airfares) then visits to Curacao, Bonaire, and two of the Venezuelan islands to round out the week. This would be a very popular cruise!

Saturday, November 15

La Guaira, Venezuela

After the stop in Bonaire, La Guaira, the port town for Caracas, was a shock. The only reason we had to go there was in order to clear into Venezuelan waters.

The day was warm, and there was no wind. We entered a very busy commercial harbor where at least six large ships were at dock transferring cargo. There were also numerous tugs about. There was also a busy airport nearby, which contributed to the activity.

We docked out of the way at a dock next to the naval academy. Immediately, we were deluged with officials. By the end of the day, I counted over 20, and at least five different uniforms. Many of them stayed the entire day! A number of these officials were there to look around, get some pictures taken, and have a drink or lunch. For instance, one official did a safety inspection. He looked at one life ring, checked to see it the light worked, looked at a stowage area under the bridge (which had been cleaned out for the first time in years just three days before!!!), and went up to the ship's wheel to have his picture taken. Another wanted some beer cans (to add to his collection!), while another wanted some postcards for his collection! About mid-morning a bus came by, loaded with uniformed people. We thought it was going to stop for a tour, but it was just cadets being taken somewhere.

La Guaira is in a bowl, surrounded on three sides by high hills. The trade winds don't get in there. As the morning went on, the deck became unbearably hot. Running up the hillsides were the shanty towns of the port workers. There were a couple of options available. Some of the passengers went on a Jeep tour into the mountains on very rough roads. This trip received mixed reviews. Others went to a Sheraton ($12 round trip), where there was free access to the beach and pool. Most of the WJ'ers that went there stayed near the pool, since the beach was crowded on this weekend day. One small group, led by Marta from Bolivia, went into Caracas. Marta was very familiar with the city.

We stayed aboard for the day, sunning and watching the harbor and officials. It was hot on deck until about noon, when the clouds coming over the mountain lowered and it began drizzling over the harbor. This continued most of the afternoon, and made it more comfortable.

We set sail about 6 p.m., and I was glad to be away from the commercial area! We sailed along the Venezuelan coast, watched the lights ashore and the scattered thunderstorms surrounding us, and a bright moon.

Sunday, November 16

Tortugillas

These islands were among my favorites when we went there in 1994. Tortugilla is a flat, dry island, with a powdered-sugar soft white sand beach. There is nice snorkeling off the north end, and a shallow lagoon on the other side. It is also an island to walk around, with some rocks to be walked over at one place, and a small mangrove lagoon to swim across. The walk takes about one hour, and is great fun. It feels like you are exploring a deserted island.

We snorkeled for a while off the reef. Among other things, I saw the largest parrot fish ever, approaching four feet! We had lunch on the beach, and it was a wonderful beach day! There were a number of sailboats anchored there and a few local fishing boats. Captain Guyan hadn't recalled it being so busy, but after the previous day, it sure seemed quiet!

That night was Toga Night! Once again, most of the passengers participated, and it was great fun. We sailed about 9 p.m. under a misty moon.

Monday, November 17

Blanquilla

This was another island I fondly remembered from my 1994 trip. We arrived about 8 a.m., and found eleven sailboats at anchor. The Captain had never seen more than one!

There are small cliffs and embankments backing the beach, and granite rocks studded and separated the long beaches. The diving was good, if you could see anything through the clouds of anchovies. There were remarkable schools of this small fish, and they attracted lots of pelicans that were constantly diving on them.

It was another fantastic beach day in paradise, but it got even better! We sailed at 5 p.m., and after Swizzle time, we were going to have a mock wedding. But just as it was about to start, dolphins showed up for a visit. Then, we all watched the sunset. We were rewarded with a Green Flash! It was the first time I had seen it in the Caribbean, and only the second time ever! After all that, the Mock Wedding was a hilarious conclusion to the day.

Tuesday, November 18

Puerto La Cruz

This day found us idling into Puerto La Cruz. We weren't due to pick up the pilot until 9:30, so we had some time. The water was glassy, and it was a good time for a photo launch. I had planned on only taking a couple of pictures, but when I saw the reflections of the ship in the water, I couldn't resist shooting a lot of film.

We anchored off this port city on a hot and clear day. There was nothing specific planned for the day. The town offers some shopping, including a new mall. There are also a number of inexpensive, yet very good restaurants ashore. A small group went out to Ranchero Hato for horseback riding. This was the ranch we had visited on our previous visit to Puerto La Cruz.

That evening we went ashore to stroll along Passeo Columbo, which is the main waterfront road. The whole area is developed as a park, and it seems to be a very popular place to be in the evening. Along the walkways are several hundred street vendors, which makes for interesting browsing.

We stayed at anchor overnight, as we planned only a short sail down the Mochima Channel to our next stop.

Wednesday, November 19

Arapa

We set sail at 6am for our trip down the inland passage to Arapa. I got up early, since I remembered how pretty this area was. We sailed along past barren islands of the national park, and the scenery was spectacular as the sun came up. We sailed along. Another school of dolphins joined us. The captain let people out on the widow's net for a better look. They stayed with us for a while before going off on some other mission.

As we approached Arapa, we took a shortcut through a narrow passage between an island and the mainland. We then sailed across a small bay to reach our destination. Anchoring was a challenge, since the water was quite deep. Arapa is a pretty beach. Set at the base of a small tree-covered hill, it is very picturesque. The beaches are broken up into a series of smaller beaches by rock outcrops. The rocks offshore proved to be coral-covered, and spread over a large area. The water was quite clear.

As we snorkeled along the shore, I observed that there weren't many fish, nor a variety of coral. There was a lot of coral, but not a lot of types. We soon realized why this might be so. The shore drops off rapidly into deep water, and there was a strong thermocline only a few feet down. Below the thermocline, the water was much cooler. If this is common in the area, that would limit the coral and fish diversity. As we swam along we felt patches of really chilly water. It was indeed a surprise. ( Hey, I notice these things, I have a degree in Marine Biology!)

There was a pretty beach there, with lots of palm trees. After the two beach days, most of the passengers were desperate for shade! There was also a restaurant and a beach bar, the latter of which was very popular! We went back to the ship, and swam off the side of ship for the remainder of the afternoon. We weighed anchor at 4 p.m. in hopes of seeing some dolphin on our way to the next port. Our mission proved to be successful.. As we moved into deeper water, several schools of dolphins appeared near the ship. This day, however, we could see lots of them feeding in the distance around an island to our northwest.

We had our choice about ways to make the open sea, and the captain chose the scenic route, winding among a complex of islands. It was a spectacular way to go!!

That evening, after dinner, we had a (No) Talent show. There was poetry recited by passengers, and songs and skits by passengers and crew. One of the highlights was a side-splitting appearance by Rancid, the ships elephant.

We sailed on into the night toward our next port in Margarita.

Thursday, November 20

Pampatar, Margarita

The morning found us anchored in Pampatar Bay. This was a place we had been before. The place looked the same as before, with lots of unfinished buildings, and a few new ones. The hills were dry, and it was a long launch ride into the beach. Only five customs officials came aboard.

A few people went into Palomar to shop, and reported it to be hot and very crowded. Others went on an all-day jeep tour of the island. They reported it to be hot and dusty, but lots of fun. We lazed away the day on deck where there was ample drink and air-conditioning close at hand.

That evening, there was a beach barbecue at one of the local beach bars, along with a band. The place was nicer than our last trip, and the music actually pretty good! Our table was out on the beach, and I (maybe only me!) enjoyed watching some fish bats flying patrol up on the beach. Unfortunately, they left for a quieter area before long.

After the party ashore, we set sail about 11 p.m. for our next stop.

Friday, November 21

Los Testigos

These are another set of favorite islands. We stopped at another isolated island, and the home of a few fishermen and a frigate bird rookery. It is a nice beach stop with good snorkeling. Since we were leaving at noon, I spent most of the morning diving. I did all the areas at least once. I even crossed the channel to the next island and dove along some neat rock cliffs that end in the water. It was a great way to spend my last day at the beach!

That afternoon we set sail for Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, our final destination. It was a melancholy afternoon. I laid out on deck in the sun, and watched the water go by.

We were scheduled to reach Trinidad by 5 am, but that came into question when one of our two engines had to be shut down for repairs. Our speed slowed from 8 to 4 knots, and we couldn't use the sails because of the wind direction. This was the one day when we had to reach port close to schedule!!! Things were beginning to get worrisome, when two hours later, the ship's engineer brought the engine back on line. Too bad. We would make port!

At Swizzle Time, we distributed address lists, which included email addresses for all the passengers. The trip was coming to a close. The Captain's Dinner was that evening, and included Sam's Caesar Salad, and a delicious Banana Flambe.

I watched the sea and stars for a while, then turned in. Saturday would be a long, sad day!

Saturday, November 22

Port of Spain, Trinidad

We woke at 5:30 am, and left the ship at 6:15. Before we left the area, we walked down the dock to look at the new ship, Legacy. They were having a party for the workers that evening, and no visitors were allowed, but I slipped aboard for a quick peek. She is a bigger ship, and feels much larger than Fantome. All of the cabins have inside doors, and the hallway I saw was much wider. The hallways had no wood in them, all enamel and brass. There was still lots of finishing carpentry work to do, and that will take a while.

We left the dock for the half-hour ride to the airport, over good roads. The Trinidad Airport was nice enough and comfortable, even if there were three swallows flying around the waiting area. We flew back to Miami on a BWIA L-1011. It was a very good flight, and I think BWIA is one of the better airlines I have flown lately. We were treated very well.

Miami Customs was the usual hell. We had a 4 1/2 hour layover there, and the time was handy, given the time waiting for bags and standing in lines, trying to clear Customs. We escaped, and as we explored the terminal, we discovered a third-floor moving sidewalk, that can move you from one end of the concourse to the other in eight minutes. I will have to keep that in mind for the future!

The US Airways flight back to BWI went without a hitch, and by 9 p.m. we were home again. We had been gone a long time -- the leaves were all off the trees!!! Brrrrr!

Conclusions ...

This trip was much different than any we had taken before. It was more relaxed, and not as much was forced into each week. Many felt that you could always wait until tomorrow to get something done. There were several activities that didn't happen for lack of interest. Also, there wasn't as much partying and dancing, perhaps because of the older crowd. On the other hand, some of the group felt the activities people and crew were a little shy in suggesting things, because of the perceived older age.

We were also disappointed at not being able to get to Swan Island, and having to go to La Guaira.

I have never before taken three weeks off, and don't know if I ever can again. But I enjoyed the trip, although I began to feel that, for me at least, it was a little long. Would I go again?? I would arrange something!!!!!

Line

Dean Dey has a lot more information about Windjammer at his web page at http://www.rec.udel.edu. Dean can be reached for questions or comment at: dey@udel.edu


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