This was not my first visit to the islands of the Caribbean nor my first cruise on Sea Cloud ll (that’s two, not eleven) but this would be first time I had island hopped on Sea Cloud ll. There is another Sea Cloud, a smaller vessel built many years ago, but this sister ship was built in 2001 and carries a maximum of 92 passengers. On my cruise from February 14th – 28th 2018 there were 83 passengers all keen to see this magnificent ship under sail – 32,000 square feet of sail set by hand, which means members of the crew shimmy up the rigging to release the sails. None of that system of an officer pressing a button on the bridge to unfurl the sails.
Thirteen islands in 15 days would be quite a challenge and it was inevitable that time on each island would be somewhat limited. We started off in Antigua, having flown there direct from London Gatwick. The next day we set off in minibuses for a tour of the island. My bus was driven by Tony who had not cut his hair in 20 years and had dreadlocks down to his waist! Our guide was called Sunshine who talked a lot but very clearly and informative with a good sense of humour. We drove down to Nelsons Dockyard and a glimpse of posh yachts. And a rum punch.
St Barths was next port of call, it’s a very French island and is a Départment of France meaning it’s an overseas territory. It’s a very rich island, with shops such as Chanel, Bvlgari, Dolce & Gabbana etc, and recovered very quickly from the ravages of the 2017 hurricanes which destroyed so many Caribbean islands. Sea Cloud ll had anchored out in the bay so we went ashore in the ship’s tenders (lifeboats) which was to be the routine at most of the islands.
The British Virgin Islands, of which Jost Van Dyke is one, were badly damaged by hurricane Irma last summer, nevertheless we went ashore by zodiac (inflatable dinghy) for an afternoon on the beach. And a rum punch. Tom Hook, the American Cruise Director on the ship played jazz music in the lounge after dinner. He is an extremely talented musician and entertained us at afternoon tea, cocktail hour and every evening after dinner. He claims to be self taught and he says he cannot read music; but can play absolutely anything.
St Kitts & Nevis were visited during the next two days. I had read in Wanderlust magazine about a railway on St Kitts which had been built by the Brits to convey the sugar cane from the plantations to the port in the 18th century. It is now operated as a tourist train but unfortunately a) not on a Sunday and b) would have cost US $99 per person. That was a shame as I would have enjoyed a train ride. I’ll put that on my Bucket List….Our mini bus driver for our island tour was another dreadlocked chap called Lindo but I called him Limbo. We visited a huge fortress at Brimstone Hill built by the British to defend against the French; which seems to have been the case in most of the islands we visited. I had a rum punch as defence against a rain shower. We overnighted at anchor at Basseterre, St. Kitts and left at 6 a.m. for the short trip to next door Nevis where we anchored off the capital, Charlestown.
Our next stop was due to be Montserrat but unfortunately the sea was too rough for us to go ashore so we sailed, or rather motored, on to Iles des Saintes. Here we visited another fort this time named after Napoleon for the French’s defence against the British. This time we were allowed time for shopping. And a rum punch. There was a quiz on board the ship in the afternoon and Pirates dinner in the evening. These events are mercifully rare on Noble-Caledonia ships where organised games and dressing up are hardly ever on the programme; though I must confess I enjoyed these
particular events, and some passengers had done very well to put together a costume of sorts. I shall take a stuffed parrot with me on my next cruise.
Domenica was one of the worst islands struck by hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017.Once ashore we went in minibuses to the Cabrits National Park and an excellent talk by an Anglo/Caribbean professor from the University of the West Indies. He pointed out the cannons facing out to sea. This time the British against the French. The energetic went off for a trek through the “jungle” and the rest of us went down the hill. For a rum punch. Before leaving the UK Noble had e-mailed us to say that the company is contributing, through their Charity, to rebuild the local library on the island which had been devastated by the hurricanes and asking passengers to take a book to replenish its stock. Our Cruise Director delivered over 200 books to help re- stock the library..
We were on big buses for our next tour around the island of Martinique where we visited the birthplace of Josephine (Mrs Napoleon) with a small museum and on to a sugar cane factory and distillery. And a rum tasting. During the two weeks cruise we enjoyed lectures by Peter Warwick, who specialises on naval and polar subjects and an this cruise mainly featured talks on Nelson and the glory years of the British navy.
Peter is an excellent speaker and his lectures were very well attended.
Grenada, known as the spice island was next stop and where I skipped the island tour in favour of a walk around the market and alongside the port – in the rain. The weather had been somewhat disappointing on this cruise though rain showers soon passed and the sun came out again.
The next two islands, Bequia (pronounced Beck-way) and St Lucia have to be my favourites especially as the sun was shining we had some time on the beach and for a swim. But we also visited Botanical Gardens and enjoyed, yes you’ve guessed it! A rum punch.
Barbados was our last stop and from whence most of us were to fly home. For almost the first time for two weeks we tied up alongside the jetty nose to tail with some enormous monster cruise ships looking like blocks of flats. It made us even more appreciative of our magnificent Sea Cloud ll. In fact I am sure that kind of vessel and the rows of beachside hotels in Barbados appeal to some people but not to Noble-Caledonia travellers who appreciate that Small is Beautiful.