Caledonia in the Caribbean 2009
2015: Editor note: Sadly, this company only lasted a short time, and no longer operated. The ship was last reported in Toronto. She was expensively refitted to serve as a tall ship, but had some challenges. The deck felt incomplete, and needed to be more passenger-friendly. There were LOTS of life-raft barrels stacked in the middle of the deck. Also, the sails were square sails, which required the crew to climb into the rigging to adjust them. But the crew and the trip was wonderful!
The stop in Montserrat made the trip for us..
This was the beginning of our 30’ish trip to the Caribbean, most of them sailing on WBC, but a few trips for island stays. We chose this itinerary because we like the area, and also wanted to visit Montserrat to see the volcano. Our first trip to the Caribbean was to Montserrat in 1988, and we taken the volcano crater tour.
The trip began as most do, with an early morning flight out of Baltimore. We got a few strange looks in the airport, since we chose to wear shorts and sandals, despite the 30 degree temperatures. We were ready for some Caribbean warmth! This time we flew USAIR, simply because it got us to St. Martin on schedule. After changing planes in Philadelphia, we flew direct to St. Martin. We landed on time, and caught a cab to Phillipsburg. We made it across town to the pavilion next to the Greenhouse restaurant in record time. We met Nick and Marissa, who took charge of our bags. We headed out for a stroll on the boardwalk, and through town. Of course, we stopped for a rum punch. Fortunately for my pocketbook, Columbia Emeralds was closed.
We returned to the pavilion shortly before the official 4pm boarding time. The Caledonia was tied up out on the cruise ship dock, so we walked out there to board. Two of the big white cruise ships were docked, and we walked out there to experience the echoing steel canyons created by the 2 ships. We beat a hasty retreat to Caledonia. We checked in at the foot on the gangway, a quick and painless process. We boarded and headed to the aft deck, where we were served rum punch and snacks. It was fun watching a couple of thousand people trudging along the dock back to the big ships, many pausing to look at Caledonia, or to take pictures, some with them in the foreground. I wonder how many other people’s vacation photos we are in? After a while, one of the crew came up, introduced himself, and offered a tour of the ship. We followed him around the deck, where he pointed out the safety equipment, and the various areas, including some areas we should avoid.
We then went below deck. Passing down the companionway, he pointed out the automatic watertight doors, which slide closed, sealing compartments. We showed us how to get topside in case they were closed. We worked forward to the salon, just forward of amidships, and then to our cabin, which was just aft. Our cabin was 313, which is one of the largest aboard. It had a queen bed, a built-in desk, a chair, double cabinet for hanging stuff, and a small flat screen TV with built-in DVD. There were many drawers. There were 2 under the bed, 2 under the wardrobe, and one in the desk. There was not much empty storage room under our bed. All of the closet doors and drawers had a unique push-button locking mechanism.
The bathroom was small, as expected, with some features WBC never thought of. The bathroom was a combination sink, shower and toilet. The walls, ceiling and floor are covered in an easy-to-clean sealed plastic paneling. The door had a shower curtain across it, which kept stuff hanging on hooks in the door dry. The sink has a removable faucet (think kitchen sink sprayer) that when pulled out, is also used as a showerhead. This simplifies the plumbing connections. The shower and sink provided very hot water, something not seen on other ships in the past. The flushing mechanism is more in common with and airplane or space station. It is a vacuum system. To flush, a tap of the foot pedal produces a loud sucking sound, which instantly empties the bowl. The system is unique and takes a little practice.
We did the initial unpacking, and headed back to the aft deck, which is one two main gathering areas on deck. One of two bars on bars is located here. Marisa came around and took our picture. These were posted in the salon, and in crew areas. All week, the crew members studied it, until they knew us by name and cabin number. At 7pm, a crew member circulated around, letting everyone know that dinner was being served below. Dinner was an excellent buffet in the salon.
Dinner is served at 7 pm daily. It may be a buffet or a served meal.
After dinner, we set sail for St. Barts. The weather had been windy, and the wind had a northerly slant. This usually means rain from a tropical wave. March is in the dry season with some wind, and locals appreciated the rain. The winds were 20-30, and 4-5 foot seas were out of the north. Since we were sailing east, it was an ideal wind for sailing fast, and remarkably smooth. At one point, Caledonia was making over 10 knots.
We made good time, but as we approached St Bart’s, it was time to drop the sails. All went well until a halyard became caught near the top of the mainmast. No amount of tugging or pulling lines could loosen the halyard. Finally, the bosun Nick, strapped on the catbird seat, and was hauled aloft, above the deck lights. Once there his only choice was to cut the line free. The sail dropped safely and was stowed. We anchored about 11 as the moon rose over Gustavia, close enough the lee to have a gentle night at anchor near the entrance to the harbor. It made for a great night’s sleep.
We awoke early morning. There is a continental breakfast after 6 am, and on Monday Wednesday and Friday, a sit-down breakfast is served 7:30 – 9:30. New chef David made an excellent French toast breakfast.
After eating, we went up on deck. The wind was still blowing, the deck is metal, as per regulations, and since this is a sailing ship, there are lots of things on the deck that can stub toes and shins. I recommend sandals or tennis shoes on deck. As we wandered the deck, we noted the cushioned benches on the afterdeck and in front of the bridge. There were also a number of fabric captain’s chairs to move around the deck.
The crew was working on deck. They were all young, enthusiastic Canadians. They put the tenders in the water, and generally straightened up the deck. As we waited to clear customs, we had the safety drill. Captain Kim ran at least 5 drills, including fire, missing passenger at muster, man overboard (Poor Wilson) and abandon ship.
Once we cleared customs, we went ashore. It was still windy, with an occasional rain shower. Most folks were new to Gustavia, and chose to walk around town. We went to Shell Beach to get into the water. After a swim, we went back to the ship at noon, in time for the 12:30 lunch.
At 2, we boarded the tender (an inflatable zodiac-type outboard skiff), and motored around the north point to the next bay. There was a good swell coming from the north, some appearing to be up to 8 feet over the shallow bottom. There was no problem handling this. We beached the tender, but in the process of landing, the tender swamped somewhat from the surge. Jimmy headed back to the ship to get some help for the return trip, and get the water out. We decided to go snorkeling. Unfortunately, the surge and strong wind made the water very clouded. With a visibility only 5 feet at best, it really wasn’t worth the snorkeling. We walked the beach some, and got sandblasted. After a while, Pierre came back with Jimmy. They decided to only take half the passengers at a time back to the ship. The boat could not come ashore because of the surge, so we picked up our gear and swam out to the tender. It was a bit of a struggle getting aboard, but not that hard. The other passengers swam out, and I helped Pierre pull them aboard.
We had a quiet evening back aboard shop, with an excellent dinner served in the salon. All dinners have a fish and a meat entre.
We sailed late in the evening for St. Kitts. The seas were still good size, but the ride was surprising smooth. A few passengers noticed the seas overnight, but I found it relaxing and actually wanted a little more movement. Caledonia is just that smooth.
The morning was much brighter. We had a continental breakfast, and went up on deck with coffee and hot chocolate. The weather was clearing, and the wind had backed around to the east and SSE. It was obvious that the bad weather had finally passed us. We anchored off Basseterre, St. Kitts . We cleared customs, and the tender brought aboard a guest speaker, Mr. Aubrey. He was the general manager of the Fort Brimstone Historical Society, and gave a excellent talk in talk on the history of St. Kitts and Nevis.
As we watched, two cruise ships and a Windstar ship came in to anchor at Basseterre. Seeing this crowd, Captain Kim decided to move over to Frigate Bay. We stayed aboard until after lunch enjoying the sun and the quiet ship.
We anchored at Frigate Bay. In 1992, when I was last there, it was totally undeveloped. This is where I got bitten by an eel, along the cliffs on the north side. Today, the area is developed, which a major hotel on the other side of the isthmus.
We took the tender in to a small dock, and walked up to the beach, which was crowded with visitors and beach chairs. There were several beach bars along this stretch of beach, and beach chair rental. We decided to snorkel along the cliffs south of the beach. We swam around the short jetty. Water visibility was much a better than the previous day. However, we were very disappointed and concerned. We swan at least 400 yards along the cliff base. We saw few fish, save for a small school of Tang. What was more disturbing was that every surface was covered with a yellow filamentous algae, growing in clumps and looked to be 4-6 inches long. It covered large areas, and even appeared to be overgrowing live coral. There were few fish. As a marine biologist, I had not seen anything like it, and worried about what the conditions are that allows it to grow. Excess nutrients would be my first guess, but without further information, it is hard to say what caused the plague. We swam for a way down the cliff, but it did not fade out. We gave up, and swam back to the beach. We laid out in the sun for a while, and decided not the try the north side of the beach for snorkeling. We didn’t want to be disappointed by our memories of previous snorkeling there, so we enjoyed the sun.
We went back to the ship at 5, changed and went to the aft deck for snacks and drinks and to watch the sunset. We were pleased to see the Green Flash for St. Patrick’s Day on Caledonia.
Dinner was a Cheese and Cinnamon stuffed chicken breast or Sea Bass in tarragon sauce. The chicken was my favorite, and stuck folks as an intriguing idea.. It tasted even better. New Chef David is really proving his skills. I might add that Chef David is thrilled to be aboard. I talked with him several times, and his enthusiasm is evident. Several times I saw him taking pictures of the service in the salon, he was so pleased with his new job.
After dinner, the Captain brought aboard a steel drum player, who played on the aft deck for over 2.5 hours without a break. In his long set, he actually played very few stell drum “standards”. St Kitts has a history of excellent steel drum groups , and this guy was no exception.
We spent the calm night anchored off Frigate Bay, St. Kitts. I heard Duncan comment that it was the smoothest night running the tender since he had been in the islands.
Wednesday morning arrived looking like the normal Caribbean days I have come to know. March weather seems to be a little cooler 75 for a high, rather than 80, and water temperatures below 80, and a bit of a breeze… Always better than back home!
Breakfast was served in the salon. It was a breakfast rap, plus potatoes and bacon.
We spent the early morning making the short trip to Charleston, Nevis. While underway, several folks went out in the widows net. We put several sails up, and the sailing was wonderful.
While walking on deck, one of my old and favorite sandals came apart. Jill, the Captains wife is a professional sail maker. She brought out her mending bag, and gave Karen a sail needle and proper twine. The repair to the left shoe was done in less than 10 minutes.
At lunch, Lynndell, of Sunshine Tours came aboard to tell us about Nevis, its history and its sights. He talked about how the Nevis folks love and hate the monkeys. He also said that Nevis has 3 main sources of income. They are tourism, agriculture, and foul language. According to the Lynndell, Nevis is very conservative, and the use of foul language in public brings a $400 fine and up to 6 months in jail. Tourists are given only one warning. In addition, the law is used mostly on males, as women have more latitude.
After lunch, they began running the tender into Charleston and to Pinney Beach, the location of Sunshine’s. The tender is fast, and was making the two shore stops each hour. We went on the first shuttle to the beach. We moved slowly along the beach to find a good place to land. There were lots of rocks and the beach was lined with warning buoys, prohibiting wakes. We landed on the Four Seasons beach. It had large piles of sand on the beach. Their dock was destroyed. The resort is closed, we learned, but damage from Hurricane Omar last October. It passed northwest of St. Kitts, with local winds of 50 (the winds in the eye wall was 125mph). However, very high waves damaged the beaches. Four Seasons was severely damaged and Sunshine’s was washed away again. He relocated a little closer to town, and higher on the beach. AS we walked along the beach, we saw large concrete slabs in the water, the remains of another restaurant that we remembered as being right on the beach. We had to search for a non-rocky area to get in the water. We were near enough Sunshine’s to enjoy a couple of Killer Bees. The sun was warm, and the water was nice. Some of the crew had a day off, and were about 50 yards down the beach.
We had an empty water bottle, so before we left, we poured in a couple of more Killer Bees, and enjoyed them watching the sunset on the after deck. That night there was an even better Green Flash. There really was! IT was not Bee induced, I have pictures to prove it. Really!!
That night dinner was Steak or Red Snapper dish. Both were excellent. Later we watched the lights from Charleston and the stars.
We set sail at 6:30 for a morning sail to Montserrat. We had chosen this itinerary in order to visit the island. Being originally from the Pacific Northwest, volcanoes are part of our culture and interests. On out first trip on Yankee Clipper in 1988, we had stopped in Montserrat, and taken the volcano crater tour. Since the eruption in 1995, we have followed the eruption closely on the website http://www.montserratvolcanoobservatory.info/ We expected the stoop to be a highlight of the trip, and were not disappointed.
We sailed south past Nevis, and Rodonda, and anchored off Little Bay, on the northwest coast. Little Bay is slated to become the capital of Montserrat, and also the commercial port. Montserrat does not have any protected bays. Plymouth was its major port, but was unprotected. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 devastated the area with west winds. , and the volcano finished it off after 1995. Someday, plans for Little Bay call for it to have a protected breakwater, and the infrastructure to support the island. Since few people had lived in the north prior to 1995, it didn’t have many roads or towns.
Prior to 1995, most to the population of over 12000 lived in the south, and the north was sparsely inhabited. In the north, the roads are narrow, with many switchbacks and blind corners. Today, less that 5000 people remain. A new small airport in the hills has opened, to replace the one buried under ash on the east coast.
We took the “Then and Now” volcano tour, which was to go around the island and see the effects of the eruption. Some of the passengers decided to go the beach, which is next to Little Bay, and the only white sand beach on the island. It also looked like snorkeling might be good in areas near the beach.
We went ashore at 1:30 and met the guide. We were on of only two tour busses on the island.
We traveled south on the narrow roads. Our first stop was the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. They have a website we have visited weekly for updates. They have a small visitor’s center. There is a film showing the history of the current eruption. One of the directors, Rod, took us down to the monitoring room, and showed us all the equipment. He then joined us on the observation deck to answer any questions. His enthusiasm for volcanoes is infectious.
We could see the huge ash fields caused by the many pyroclastic flows. Steam vents were numerous, causing a cloud of water vapor to obscure the peak and create a cloud curtain to drift of toward Plymouth. The amount of damage to the southern half of the island is tremendous.
As were we were leaving, the guide told us there was a problem with the bus, and we had to wait for the other bus on the island. Once the other bus arrived, we headed south, toward Plymouth. The town is in the prohibited zone, so we went to Richmond Hill, just north of the city. This is a high hill, and the bus went up as far as possible. We hiked up the steep slope, along a broken road, for a half-mile to the top of the hill. The view from the top was marvelous. We took lots of pictures. Looking down into town, we could see the entire town, or what was left. The pyroclastic ash flows were about 1800 degrees, and burned everything in its path. In addition 20-30 feet of ash buried the town. It was pointed out that the tops of buildings we saw were 4-story buildings!
We crossed back across the Belham River valley. The valley was filled with ash, the result of lahars, a hot ash—filled mudflow. There was a house partially buried under about 15 feet of ash. We stopped for pictures and then crossed the makeshift road, and continued on along the very narrow roads across the island to Joy Boy Hill, a park which overlooks the old east coast airport. The runways are partially covered, and the control tour is only barely above the ash. It was a nearby area that the 19 people killed in one of the ash flows.
On the way back to the ship from the overlook, we passed huge pile of sand and gravel. It was explained that sand and gravel is about the only export available on Montserrat currently. Montserrat has only one hotel, and a handful of Bed &Breakfasts and restaurants. There is very little tourism currently, and that is not likely to change soon.
I wish the wonderful people on Montserrat well. I think they see that one part of their future is eco-tourism, and I am glad we could visit.
We got back to the dock a little late, and First Mate Kathryn brought one tender in to pick up the group. As we motored back to the ship, the sun was sinking below the horizon. Kathryn idled the boat, and we all took fabulous pictures and the sun went down behind the ship.
Dinner was jerk chicken or fish, again served with flair. As dinner wound down, Jason, a deckhand, came in to sing for us some of the songs from his first album, and one from his second (unfinished) album. He took a break in recording to join the crew.
We remained at anchor in Little Bay overnight, and set sail the next morning at 8 am. Captain Kim headed south around the island so we could get another look at Plymouth. We sailed on the edge of the exclusion area, and then turned east toward Antigua. As we rounded the south side of the island, we passed very close to another ash flow that had buried a couple of villages, and added a lot of new land to the island.
As we moved further around, we could see the huge areas of the east coast that have been buried in ash.
The crew unfurled many of the sails, including the square rigs, and the gaff sail. Later, when it was time to furl the sails, one of the passengers, Ester from Germany, went uup and worked the sails just like the regular crew. She had a blast!
We anchored late in the day in Falmouth harbor, Antigua, near a mega-yacht bringing passengers back in ugly shoe-box looking barges.
That night was the Captains Dinner. For the only time all week, seats were assigned, based on the crews observations. Each place was marked by origami sailor’s hat with a personal note from the crew. There were crew seated at every table. It was very nice. Chef David carved roast beef and fish for the diners, and all of the food was excellent!
Our last morning aboard—this time.
AS we had breakfast, Marissa set up a slide show of the photos submitted for the ships competition. The passengers and crew were allowed to vote for their favorite. After the votes were in, I WON!!!!!
We had to leave the ship at 10, but before that, everyone mustered on deck for a group photo the crew and passengers.
Karen also did something she wanted to do. She put on a safety harness and climbed up the ratlines to the first yard, about 40 feet above the deck. She said it was a great view. Since I don’t like heights, my stomach was in knots!
We went ashore at 10 am. The crew would bring over our bags at 1:30, when we would meet a taxi to the airport. To fill the time we took the short walk to Nelsons Dockyard. On the walk, my other sandal blew apart (wasn’t there a song about that?). I made emergency repairs with some small wire ties from my camera bag, which lasted until I got back to the dock.
The 1780’s buildings on the dockyard have been much restored and the area is full of activity, shops and anchored ships, a far cry from our visit 20 years ago. After visiting the museum, and walking around, we stopped on the deck of the Admiral Inn for a last rum punch.
We walked back to the dock, and collected our luggage, and hopped a taxi to the airport.
This was one of our favorite trips EVER! Canadian Sailing Expeditions has done an excellent job. The Caledonia is a great ship, and the Captain and Crew is even better. I highly recommend CSE and Caledonia.
We were back less than a week, and have decided that we can’t stay away. We have already decided to sail Caledonia again, this time a 10-day trip in her home Canadian waters. We will be sailing on this trip to to the remote waters of Newfoundland and Labrador in August 2009.