WJ 50th Anniversary Flotilla 1997
Yankee Clipper, October 3-11, 1997
L’Hoste, St. Martin, October 11-16, 1997
We took the brief taxi ride to Los Angeles International to pickup our 10:00 p.m. Friday night flight to Miami, then San Juan and Grenada. At the airport, we met our friends Vaughn and Gary who were also going to Grenada with us, but on a later flight. They were going to Ft. Lauderdale first to meet Lisa, Vaughn’s significant other, and then meet us in San Juan.
I had on my Sea Dog jacket and while boarding the plane, we met Judy, a Southern California local that would be sailing Mandalay during the flotilla. Judy would meet her cabin-mate Ann, in San Juan. We chatted briefly, took our seats and tried to get some sleep on the flight.
We had a brief layover in Miami, changed planes and then flew to San Juan. The trip was uneventful, but long. We arrived in San Juan several hours before boarding time for the flight to Grenada, so Judy, Dennis and I sat around eating Rolaids, discussed our previous trips and expectations and waited at the Grenada departure gate for the other flights to arrive.
During this time, Dennis and I ventured out of the airport to check the weather and upon re-entering security, received a royal roust from the men at the gate. They took my camera bag away, wiped it down completely with a cotton pad and passed the pad through a detection unit looking for drug or explosive residue. I don’t think I look like a terrorist or drug mule, but evidently my camera bag was suspect. After being detained for what seemed a long time, they gave me my camera bag back and sent us on our way. Before this I was tired from only getting about an hour’s sleep, but I was wide awake now.
It wasn’t long before the departure area was packed with fellow shipmates. We met Captain Mike, Captain Max, Vaughn, Lisa, Gary, Ann, Lee, Kim, Sue, Paul, Margie, Jeff and many more. Most of us were planning on staying at the Coyaba and the party started immediately.
Arrival at Point Salines International Airport on Grenada is an experience. The runway is short and has ocean at either end. It is definitely not a place for the pilot to land long or short, and the runway, hump in it and all, also serves as the taxiway. The brief walk across the tarmac provides the first photo opportunity, and the big sign “Welcome to Grenada” makes a friendly backdrop.
We passed through Grenada customs and immigration without incident, however, it did take awhile to become accustomed to the slow pace. It was very hot and humid, but in a short time, the taxi vans were full and everyone was on their way. There was no Windjammer representative to greet us, but the Sea Pups under our care all made it to the Coyaba.
It must have been a bit overwhelming for the hotel staff to have twenty five people or so all arrive at the front desk at the same time, but the staff was very nice and greeted us warmly. The plan was that we would all meet at the swim up bar after getting settled and use our free drink coupon provided at check in.
The Coyaba is located right on famous Grand Anse Beach. The rooms were very nice. Ours had a color t.v., cable, king bed, large bath, hair dryer, ceiling fan, lots of storage space and a patio, complete with chase lounge and several chairs. The grounds, all five plus acres, were beautiful and spacious. The pool was sparkling clean and the water temperature at Grand Anse Beach was 84 degrees. The Coyaba also has a dive shop on the premises, two open air restaurants and bars, and an open lobby.
The free drink at the pool was unusually strong. I went back twice, once for more punch to dilute the drink and another time for more ice, but still got trashed. Dennis was also trashed, and Ann could hardly walk. The rum must have been 200 proof, as each of us only had the one drink. There were about 30 of us, all standing around in the pool, drinks in hand, sharing past experiences and looking forward to new ones.
That night, several of us walked down the beach to a restaurant, but decided not to eat there. We walked up to the street to attract the attention of a taxi, but instead were picked up by a family on their way to church. They dropped us off at Taffy’s, where we had hamburgers and tried to sober up from the free drink before our brief walk back to the hotel. A few of us took a skinny dip off Grand Anse after dinner to cool off and admire the stars.
Sunday morning everyone did their own thing. Several people went on island tours. Dennis, Vaughn, Lisa and I stayed around the hotel after eating from the buffet breakfast offering. Although Coyaba offers a free hospitality room, complete with storage space and a shower to use after checking out of your room, we asked if we could use Gary’s room to store our bags and shower and they agreed, no charge.
We hung out by the pool, used the beach, walked for pizza around lunchtime and at 4:30 p.m. the taxis began arriving to take us to the dock area to meet our ships.
It was a sight to see Yankee Clipper, Mandalay and Polynesia all tied up together at the dock. We dropped off our luggage at the gang planks and sat out under the awnings meeting more new people before boarding time. The dock was covered in carpet for the upcoming festivities, and instantly, there were piles of shoes everywhere.
We boarded Yankee Clipper at 5 p.m., handed a swizzle and assigned to standard cabin number 13. We had never stayed in a standard cabin before, but found it adequate, and found space to store all our belongings. I took the top bunk, and had a port hole to look out of. Dennis took the bottom bunk, about a twin and a half wide. Our bags fit easily under the bottom bunk and we had a small storage area at our disposal. The head was typical.
That night out on the carpeted dock, several island dignitaries gave speeches and thanked Windjammer for their support and congratulated them for their 50 years of existence. A large trophy to memorialize the occasion was presented and Captain Mike gave a brief speech. A great steel band set up and played, a local native dance group performed and a huge bar-b-q buffet was set out. The ship’s galley crews did a wonderful job feeding everyone, and the fruit sculptures done by the Mandalay crew were awesome. Caribe beer hosted a complementary booth and it was said that 2800 bottles of beer were consumed. People were dancing on the pier and on the ships, and the party went on until about midnight, all three groups of shipmates, crews and dignitaries partying together. It was really fun.
Monday morning the carpet was rolled up and upon cruising the ship, I noticed all the blown up balloons on the aft deck of the Yankee Clipper. They were packaged in a huge plastic bag and soon, Emily, the purser, came to pop them. Evidently, they were not going to be used. I asked if I could have them but my request was denied. I wanted to see how many I could stuff into Vaughn and Lisa’s cabin and still close the door, butI’ll have to remember to pack my own balloons next time. Vaughn and Lisa had requested cabin 25, and managed to be assigned to it. Although it was a standard cabin, it was much larger than ours and included a small sofa and a little extra space.
Bloody Mary’s and hot sticky buns were served early and breakfast began around 7:30 a.m. Shortly after breakfast, the mandatory fire drill was accomplished and a brief story time was provided by Captain John. The schedule of the day was laid out and organized tours were set up – one to Grand Etang National Forest and the other an island tour of the spice factories. Many people walked around St. George’s and the Carenage for last minute shopping and lots of people just hung around the ship. We walked over to the Nutmeg on the Carenage and had some nutmeg ice cream, purchased Cuban cigars in one of the shops and enjoyed the beautiful harbor area. We were to set sail about 1ish for Carriacou.
Mandalay left the dock first under the control of Captain Casey and the pilot. Captain Max visited from the Polynesia under the guise of having lunch with us and left with Polynesia soon after the pilot returned. Little did we know at that time he had taken our cannon with him. Captain John did a masterful bit of maneuvering to get us away from the dock, we were tied up on the inside of the pier, facing the wrong direction, but were soon underway with the sails up and Amazing Grace wafting in the breeze.
We sailed along about 45 minutes and joined Mandalay and Polynesia prior to rounding the west side of Grenada and turning north. The three ships waited stationary about 90 minutes with sails up awaiting the aerial photography plane. After the plane arrived and flew over several times, the launches were lowered and a flotilla photography opportunity was organized. It was beautiful seeing all three ships with sails up together. I hope the aerial photographs will be available to us.
That afternoon snorkel gear could be rented, swizzles were served around 5 and dinner followed about 6:30. We arrived in Carriacou late in the evening and harbored overnight in Hillsborough Bay.
Tuesday morning after breakfast, all three ships moved to Anse La Rouche Beach for snorkeling. Diving was also available and three of our divers went out in the morning. The beach was very nice and the snorkeling was excellent over unspoiled coral to the north side of the beach. Lunch was served on the ship, and because I was having such a good time on the beach, I convinced Dennis to go get lunch and bring me back an apple. I lounged in the water, smoked a Cuban cigar, and chatted with friends all afternoon, mostly in the water.
Late in the afternoon, the ships moved back to Hillsborough Bay and snacks and swizzles were served on the Polynesia. A local band performed for us and a brief rain shower passed over. A band of about nine passengers from Polynesia took one of the launches over to the Yankee Clipper and mooned the rest of us several times; their bare butts will be memorialized on video and polyester film forever.
That night the launches ran until midnight to Hillsborough, where there was a jump-up at Eddies Bar. It was more like a street party, not everyone could fit into that little bar and everyone danced in the street, including captains and crew. The band was very good and it was fun dancing under the stars.
Wednesday morning we sailed over to Palm Island. I went diving with Yankee Clipper divers Sandy, Jerry and my buddy Diane, and about five other divers from the other two ships. Glenroy Adams, the owner and manager of Grenadines Dive took us to Saline Bay and the wreck Purina. It was a nice dive with beautiful coral and the wreck was fairly well intact. The dive went well except there were a few discourteous divers with us, but the four of us from Yankee Clipper had a great dive at a depth of about 40 feet and a bottom time of about 61 minutes. For the non divers, there was a volleyball tournament between the ships on the beach, snorkeling, and lunch ashore. There was also the infamous walk around highway 90.
After returning from diving and having lunch on the ship, I was laying out on deck snoozing and was awakened by my shipmates returning from the beach. Many were forward on the ship looking out to the beach and were indicating that someone from the Polynesia was sick on the island. I could see a large gathering under the palm trees but had no idea what was really happening. About an hour later, Dennis returned to the ship and told me it was Lee Burke who had been sick and in fact had died on the island. I immediately went into shock; Lee and I had been friends for several years although there were times when we didn’t agree on things. He was one of the regular chatters at the Sea Dog Sunday chats we had on Prodigy and we were a close-knit group. Lee was a young man, and full of life and zest as everyone knows. It was unbelievable that he was gone.
At swizzle time, in unison, the captains of the three ships made an announcement that a fellow shipmate had passed away on the beach that afternoon. In tribute, each ship was to fire one cannon blast, first the Mandalay, then the Yankee Clipper, then the Polynesia. After the cannons had been fired, each ship played a version of Amazing Grace from their loud speakers and then there was a moment of silence. The flag was lowered to half mast. It was so quiet…most everyone, even those who didn’t know Lee, had tears and many of us openly cried.
That night at Palm Island, there was a Pirate Party complete with band and bar-b-q. I didn’t feel up to a party so Dennis and I went over to the island to eat and use the phone and returned to the ship early. Grenadines Dive came back for Sandy, Jerry and Diane who dove the Purina again, a wonderful night dive.
Thursday morning the three ships sailed to Mayreau. Glenroy Adams of Grenadines Dive came for the fearsome foursome: me, Sandy, Jerry and Diane, and this time took us for a drift dive over Mayreau Gardens. This is a must do dive. Absolutely beautiful. We saw two large nurse sharks, a black tip shark and several rays. The coral wall and other aquatic life was spectacular, and the dive was effortless. The air temperature was about 91 degrees and the bottom temperature was 84 degrees. The visibility was at least 50 feet. I logged the dive at 42 feet for 61 minutes. Upon surfacing from the dive, I spit out my regulator and said “that one was for you Lee” and then couldn’t stop saying WOW!!! Diane taught me the underwater sign for WOW and for the rest of the trip I kept signing it to everyone.
We arrived back from the dive just in time for the boat races on the beach. Glenroy dropped us off there and we witnessed the Yankee Clipper team blow away the Mandalay, Polynesia and crew teams. We were to sail to Bequia around lunchtime, and having not been the fastest ship on the leg to Carriacou, we were all hoping to show the other ships how fast we could really sail. At each story time, Captain John had been advising us all week to let the bets mount up, and that we would take all in the end.
Mandalay left Mayreau first. Yankee Clipper and Polynesia left about twenty minutes later at approximately the same time. It didn’t take long and we were way out ahead of the Polynesia, but Mandalay was way ahead of us. We were gaining fast on Mandalay and dolphins came to play alongside the ship as we sailed. They stayed with us about a half hour, and then swam off following some very large schools of fish.
We were still gaining on the Mandalay and Captain John was doing a masterful bit of sailing. It was beautiful sailing out there. After the short sails we had done earlier in the week, it was wonderful having a long sail.
At swizzle time, a birthday cake and several champagne bottles were brought up for the passengers celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. Also at this time, Captain John made an announcement: We had seized the coveted trophy that had been presented to Windjammer on Sunday night and had been stashed away by Polynesia. The members of our winning boat race team had their pictures taken with the trophy and then it was passed around so we could all see it.
At sunset, a distress call came in from Captain Max and the Polynesia. No one, including Captain John believed that Polynesia had blown her engine, and that Mandalay had suffered a water pump loss. We were abeam Mandalay and Polynesia was way behind us in the distance. It was decided that due to Mandalay’s ill condition, that we would turn around and sail back to Polynesia.
After all the taunting the Polynesia passengers had dished out all week, they were harmonizing “We’re not worthy” as their sails were dropped and the tow rope was hooked up to us. We lugged Polynesia the rest of the way to Bequia. As we taunted back with “Row, row, row your boat” to the Polynesia passengers, we laughed and took pictures of them the whole way. Seafaring justice, I would say.
Captain John and Max were hot on the radio trying to get Polynesia safely into port. The problem was that Mandalay was anchored in front of us and the Sir Francis Drake was anchored to our starboard side. Captain Max needed to be in shallow enough water so the hook would hold and not plow into us when we cut him loose, and we needed to drop him in time to take evasive action if the Polynesia’s anchor didn’t hold. It was quite tense, but mission accomplished. A good bit of sailing by both captains.
Because we were so late getting into Bequia, (having to tow the barge as we laughed), a game of wacky Olympics was arranged on deck and several teams played. The Purser Emily had the teams doing things that look interesting on film. One of the pictures is quite strange looking: a passenger racing to eat a banana that was stuffed between her teammates legs.
When we arrived at Admiralty Bay, Bequia, about 12 of us took a taxi to Coco’s overlooking the harbor for dinner. The lobster was delicious and the view from atop Bequia looking down at the three ships in harbor was breathtaking. We played “the name game” around the table which was fun and interesting. After dinner we took a taxi back to the Plantation House where there was a huge party, and there were as many locals enjoying the fun and live music as passengers.
Friday morning the launches alternated between beach and town stops and tours were arranged for those interested. The fearsome foursome and one passenger from the Mandalay went diving, this time with Dive Bequia. The dive spot was “the Boulders,” and it was another great dive with beautiful coral, sponges and big fish. The Mandalay passenger had some problems with buoyancy and surfaced early, but the fearsome foursome logged the dive at 61 feet for
68 minutes. At least that is what I logged. Again the visibility was excellent and the dive guide pointed out all sorts of neat creatures for us. I got to pet a snake eel and also see a huge nurse shark hidden under a ledge. Naturally, I had to give the WOW sign at least a dozen times. The single tank dives through Grenadines Dive and Dive Bequia from the Yankee Clipper were $45 each.
After lunch Mandalay left the harbor for northern destinations and we were leaving southbound for Grenada as Polynesia was being readied for a tow to St. Lucia by way of tow boat. We fired our cannon at Polynesia several times, but Captain Max was too busy to return fire because of the delicate maneuvering required to set up the tow. We were all hoping he would fire back – we had a surprise for him. As it turned out, when the Polynesia had taken our cannon earlier in the week, they failed to also take our cannon balls. Captain John and crew graciously gave Captain Max a few of ours, those specially marked and appropriately filled with a little gunpowder and a lot of cake flour. We didn’t see Captain Max get sprayed with the flour as the cannonball went “thud,” but I’m sure he received quite a surprise when he got around to firing his cannon, probably at some yachtie. Since he was leaving the ship shortly, if he didn’t use the cannon balls, the regular Captain received the surprise, and no doubt,
that captain would blame the flouring incident on Captain Max. More justice for Polynesia.
During the afternoon we had another photographic opportunity. Captain John gathered the crew so we could take a group photo and then the crew took our cameras and took group photos of the passengers. My camera is not self focusing, and my passenger photos are slightly out of focus. If anyone out there reading this has a sharp photo, I’ll happily pay for a reprint. It was a good idea, and I believe my first photo of any full crew.
At the Captain’s dinner there was a choice of baked salmon or prime rib. There was no caesar salad, but we did have banana flambee, which naturally was wonderful, and potent. It was another long, gracious sail, this time under cloudy skies and a beautiful lightening show off in the distance. We stayed up late to enjoy the sail back and arrived in St. George’s harbor around 4 a.m. Many of our shipmates had to leave the ship early Saturday for flights home, so the wake up board was setup and everyone checked it carefully before retiring.
Dennis and I didn’t have to catch our plane to San Juan until 2:30 p.m., so we used Saturday morning to pick up our special order of big bags of spice and pack. It rained on and off, and was a good morning to hang around the ship.
Shortly after lunch the taxi vans picked us up and took about 30 of us to the airport. Captain John and Emily had obtained a letter from an immigration officer allowing us to pass back out of Grenada without having to pay the departure tax. We had not been back in Grenada for more than 24 hours, and by their law, they could not collect from us.
We throughly enjoyed this trip although there were a few rough spots. Most of the passengers on the three ships were Sea Dogs, and as it has been said before, the passengers you meet on these trips are as important as the trip itself. We knew many passengers from the Polynesia, Yankee Clipper and Mandalay from previous trips and it was great to see those friends again. We also made many new friends, and hope we can all can stay in touch. I especially want to thank Sandy, Jerry and Diane for taking me under their diving wings, and to wish God’s speed to my lost friend Lee.
Many thanks to Captain John and the crew of Yankee Clipper for allowing us to share their beautiful ship and islands, and kudos to the Windjammer folks in Miami that put the trips together and make it look so easy. Our bartenders were Country and Jack, and our chief steward was Kenny. Emily the purser and Shan the first mate worked endlessly to keep things running smoothly. A special hello to Buxford and Ralson. Many thanks to those with names I do not know working on the Yankee Clipper, and we look forward to sailing with you again.
Onward to St. Martin for week two.
Our flight to San Juan from Grenada was on time and quiet. We had one last drink in San Juan with Sue and Paul before their flight left for Boston and then Dennis and I waited around for our flight to St. Martin.
We arrived in St. Martin about 9:30 p.m. It was cloudy and overcast but nonetheless, our taxi driver finally found Hotel L’Hoste on Orient Beach after giving us the grand tour. The french speaking security guard showed us to our room, garden view room number 111, and instructed us how to use the privacy screen, television and showed us where all the electrical switches were. We don’t speak French, but got the idea of how everything worked and where everything was. L’Hoste is a very nice place, small, and right on the beach. I highly recommend it, if you can survive a hotel without a restaurant. There are about 15 beach bars within a 10 minute walk, so even without a car, you won’t go hungry if you stay there.
When we woke up Sunday morning it was raining and we dashed the short distance to the Bikini Bar on the beach where we had breakfast. After that, we arranged for a rental car through the hotel and shortly thereafter it was delivered. When we had indicated we only needed a small car – they made sure we had a small car. It was a four door, manual transmission Daewoo, the smallest car I had ever seen, let alone tried to drive.
We drove around the island to Phillipsburg, shopped for a new camera bag and had lunch at the Passangrahan Royal Guest House, a hotel we had stayed at when we visited St. Martin previously. The Passangrahan has been rebuilt and some construction was still underway, thanks to hurricanes Luis and Marilyn that devastated St. Martin two years ago. The food was excellent and the service was friendly, just as we had remembered.
We had rain, lightening and thunder everyday we were in St. Martin. Since hanging out on the beach was impossible, we toured the island and various hotels, seeing something new each day. We enjoyed visiting the Esmeralda Resort and were shown a suite. It was very near Hotel L’Hoste, and expensive.
We went to Grand Case several times and thought that area was really cool. We visited Anse Marcel and the dive shop there and walked around L’Habitation Le Domaine and the Le Privilege Resort & Spa. The harbor there was really beautiful, but be sure the brakes on your car work well before venturing over the hill.
One afternoon,we hung out in Marigot and discovered several french bistros and had interesting conversations with the owners and various patrons. The fun part was picking something to eat – everything was written in french and no translations were provided.
We visited another dive shop in Simpson Bay and loaded up on chocolate croissants from a local bakery and ate them each morning. We also explored small french delis and purchased salami, various cheeses and of course, baguettes for our lunches. We thought Oyster Pond and Dawn Beach were beautiful and will explore that area further when we return on our next trip.
The cable in our room was out most of the time due to the storm and wind, so Dennis and I enjoyed long afternoon naps. A few times we ventured out to the beach when it seemed to be clearing up, but each time it would soon rain again. We visited Pedro’s on Orient Beach and drank mudslides and tried visiting with the vendors, but they too were busy getting out of the rain. Our little car performed well, the roads were slippery and a few times we thought we had driven into a stream the water was running so fast. Be sure to try Le Bateau Lavoir in Marigot for dinner. It has a fun french atmosphere, is very casual, and has terrific food.
Wednesday morning October 15 we checked out of L’Hoste, returned our car and went to the airport to catch our flight home but the flight was canceled due to high winds. The aircraft that was to take us to Miami couldn’t land and was diverted to San Juan. We were instructed to reclaim our bags from baggage claim, check with reservations and come back another time. We took a cab to the Passangrahan Royal Guest House in Phillipsburg hoping they would have a room for us as we were unable to reach them by phone from the airport. It was not a problem and although they had no hot water or telephone service and were experiencing intermittent electrical service, we enjoyed standing out on our balcony betting which ship in the harbor might sink first and then had another good nights sleep listening to the wind howl.
Since we were running low on cash and had no idea how long we might be held over, we went to a local bank to get more money, tried to use each payphone we came to to call home and eventually ended up at Ric’s – an American Sports Bar in Phillipsburg. Finally, some American food – the nachos were outstanding. The nice folks at Ric’s were also able to direct us to a shop where we could get some news written in English (we hadn’t seen a newspaper or news report since October 2) and discovered there had been the hurricane disaster in Acapulco and that many ship wrecks had occurred over the past few days around St. Martin. Gee, we had no idea…
If you still have energy left after discovering and exploring the many beaches and shopping areas of St. Martin, try a side trip to St. Barts, about 15 miles away and reachable either by ferry or commuter plane. You can also get to Anguilla by ferry, a nearby flat island with beautiful beaches. If you’re looking for a deserted beach side trip, consider Prickly Pear, a place for a quiet lunch, beautiful coral snorkeling and white sand beach.
A must do side trip for divers or hearty snorkelers would be a trip to the island of Saba, only 28 miles from St. Martin. Saba is surrounded by a marine park and has no beaches but is a divers paradise. Blue Ocean Divers in Baie Nettle quoted us $50 for a one tank dive on Saba, $90 for a two tank dive and $115 for a triple tank dive. They also run snorkel trips over the marine park. The fee charged by the marine park is $3 per dive.
A round trip ticket via Winward Islands Airways from St. Martin to Saba is $90 round trip and takes about 15 minutes each way. To reach Saba by boat, plan on a 90 minute trip each way and cost of about $60 round trip.
Thursday we went to the airport again, this time without incident although the wind was still blowing. We were able to secure confirmed hotel reservations on the island for our New Year’s Eve 1999 stay while visiting St. Martin and throughly enjoyed ourselves despite the nasty weather. St. Martin is a wonderful island, a fun place to spend time and an excellent base island for adventuring to other nearby islands. The departure tax is $16 per person U.S.
If anyone has any questions, I will try to answer them the best I can.