On the first day of our Caribbean cruise aboard the Sagitta – a 24-passenger Island Windjammers ship sailing out of St. Lucia through the French West Indies – my watch stopped.
Though it seemed inconvenient at the time, it proved to be a good omen. This was one of the most relaxing trips I’ve had in years, and while I admit that I glanced at my left wrist from time to time over the course of a week’s cruise expecting to view my now packed-away watch, I didn’t really need to know the hour – or sometimes, it seemed, even the day.
The ship’s bell rang at mealtimes – 8 a.m. for breakfast, noon for lunch, 5 p.m. for snack-and-cocktail hour, 7 p.m. for dinner – so the critical times of the day were accounted for.
All my wife, Catharine, and I really had to pay attention to was what times the dinghies were going ashore and returning to the ship after our visits to beaches, hot springs, forts, towns and cities on the often-idyllic islands of Dominica, Terre-de-Haut (part of Guadeloupe) and Martinique. And if we missed one dinghy, we could always catch the next one.
It quickly became clear to us that the Sagitta – which rhymes with “Rita,” as in “Sagitta-Rita,” the ship’s signature rum punch – is a vessel that invites a good time.
As we boarded the Sagitta for the first time on a Sunday afternoon, anchored off Rodney Bay in St. Lucia, several passengers – some of them repeat customers who knew the ropes, as it were — wanted to have an early go at the ship’s rope swing. This involved swinging off the top of the gangplank via a rope alongside the ship and theoretically letting go before splashing into the water. (Some forgot to let go when they were supposed to, but everyone survived unscathed.) Others simply jumped or dove off the ship into the water for a swim in the warm Caribbean.
Later in the week, most passengers went for an impromptu sea swim, this time hanging onto floating devices tethered to the ship. Much Carib and Presidente beer was consumed during this mass float, with the empty cans loaded into the middle of a very large rubber ducky to be hauled back in for recycling.
Onboard but Never Bored
While shore excursions – some organized, others not – were available every day, there was no pressure to leave the ship if you didn’t want to (and many preferred to stay onboard some days, soaking up sun, reading, or sampling the ample supply of complimentary beer, wine and rum that fueled the oftentimes party atmosphere). In the evenings, perhaps after one too many Sagitta-Ritas, some passengers partook in parlor games or sing-alongs that might charitably be called ribald – but all in good fun.
As one of my fellow passengers said to me at dinner the last night, eaten under the stars while anchored off the coast of Martinique: “Listen to all the laughter at the tables. Most of these people didn’t even know the others existed a week ago, and now they’re like family.”
That’s one of the advantages to being on a small ship cruise compared to a large vessel with thousands of others aboard: the fewer the passengers, the more likely it is you’ll get to know your fellow shipmates.
Of course, being a “family” of sorts, there are times when you want to be alone as well. As another of our fellow passengers put it about our two-dozen-strong group, “It’s small enough that you get to know everyone, but large enough to get away from someone if you want to.”
A Diverse Group
The onboard comity was especially notable because we were a reasonably diverse group.
Passengers ranged in age from their 30s through their 60s or thereabouts – with baby boomers well represented — and lived in several different U.S. states: Georgia, Florida, California, Arizona, Colorado, and New York.
Three passengers originally hailed from the UK – England and Scotland — while one had Egyptian heritage and another Ukrainian. Among us were financial advisers, government and university employees, a lawyer, an engineer, a surgical assistant, a flight attendant, a jeweler, several retirees, and seven folks who were connected in one way or another with the Coca-Cola Company. Most were couples but several solo travelers were along as well.
The ship’s captain – known as Captain Matt – was from Minnesota, and the rest of the crew came from Guyana, Bulgaria and other countries as well as the U.S.
The captain, who customarily wore shorts and polo shirts and went barefoot, set the tone for informality aboard, often joining us for early morning coffee on deck or at one of the tables for mealtimes. Donning a brightly colored tropical shirt, he even took a turn grilling ribs at a beach barbecue on Dominica one night.
After a few months on duty every day, it was his last sailing on Island Windjammers for several months, and (for the most part) the week couldn’t have gone better.
While I’m traveling in Antarctica for a few weeks I’m reprising some of my most popular posts from the past three years. This post — now updated — originally ran in June 2015.