We had had this sailing trip with 6 strangers booked with TradeWinds for the last year so had plenty of time to think about what to expect, but my better half always says ‘if you don’t have any expectations then you won’t be disappointed’ so I decided to go with his philosophy, especially as I have a genuine fear of water and had also not long recovered from major abdominal surgery which restricted some movement and things I’d be able to do.
We arrived to a mele of Caribbean chaos, all ready to board the boat, except one of the gang had forgotten their phone!! NOBODY wants to be without their mobile, especially when there may be nothing else to do but play games that don’t require Wi-fi if you don’t get on with your fellow sailors! So the rest of us sat with our first cocktail of the week waiting for the lovely Andrew (as we later found out), to return from retrieving said phone. We were also waiting for our final two passengers to arrive, their flight had been delayed so would no doubt arrive in a flurry of stress. (So actually they didn’t, that would be me that would have been stressed, they were as cool as cucumbers, they knew we had cocktails and they knew we wouldn’t be going anywhere without them…..oh to think positively, I must try that some time!)
First introduction was the crew, we had Amy, our captain, a lovely 25 year young girl with an infectious personality, an obvious joy for life on the ocean and the ability to make everybody feel very comfortable. She was a fellow Brit, originally from Plymouth and an avid water girl. Then we had Jose, our Spanish first mate and chef, who turned out to be Amy’s stepdad, married to Amy’s Mum, who usually works with her as her first mate and chef, but was temporarily injured, so Jose stepped in. I later found out he was no gentleman when it came to playing my new favourite game ‘Spoons’, he didn’t half nudge me out the way to grab one for himself so he could stay in the game!!
Usually that would be the total crew for a boat with 8 guests, but we were so lucky to have an extra 2 crew members with us who were in training, Jake from London and Orla from Ireland. All fabulous and full of the enthusiasm that you would want from a team you’re going to be spending a week with, who are responsible for your safety as well as your brain!!
Now to the guests: first we had Todd and Andrew, a married couple from Chicago who you just knew were going to be fun when Todd arrived with his own captains hat on! With them came Jennifer and Kara, two friends from New York, who were also the long term besties of Todd and Andrew, a lovely foursome who seemed to enjoy life to the full with a special love of Prosecco and Baileys. Finally, once landed and on board, we had Dennis and Leslie, a 60 something lovely couple from Albuquerque, New Mexico, otherwise known as the Breaking Bad desert, the most mature couple on board and I don’t mean because of their age. Lesley was great at keeping us all in tow with her daily mantras. With all eight on board, we started to relax, the anticipation subsiding, replaced by the feeling that we were in for a good week together on the water.
For the first night, we sailed out a tiny weeny bit (about 10 minutes) to the middle of the water, this reminded me of the time when one of my kids went for his first overnight camping with the school, wanting him to feel like he was going on a real adventure (rather than knowing they were in a field only 10 minutes down the road from home) we drove him round in circles for an hour before reaching the ‘campsite’ so he thought he was far away from home’!! Anyway, dinner was served, a beautiful marinated Mahi-Mahi with stir fry vegetables and an array of salads. De-Li-Cous! The trip was an all inclusive one, with an endless supply of food and drinks. Slimming World was definitely going to be put on hold for the week.
The conversation flowed and we didn’t need any icebreakers, which was a relief, don’t you hate those? I’d been preparing a few answers just in case this happened, but so far so good. I didn’t need to tell everybody something that others didn’t know about me, (not much left to be honest, I’m quite an open book), or tell them what I loved about myself and what I hated about myself, I’d have had the floor for quite some time on the latter! Though the outlook of Leslie was one which I really hoped to adopt when I left the boat. No self-loathing to start with!
After one or three too many, one by one, people quietly sloped off to bed (I was one of the first), hoping that no one would notice or think they were a party pooper! This became a trend each evening, and seemed to get earlier and earlier, there’s something about boat life that makes you forget time, everything rolls into one and the evenings seem to be so chilled you feel like its much later than it is. By the end of the trip I felt like I’d been on a gap year with my new friends rather than a week at sea!
Our first day of sailing was so amazing. I surprised myself. I’m not a water baby and was really dubious about spending a week on a boat, but so far so good. We didn’t have to do any of the actual sailing, (unlike the last time when we actually went on a holiday to learn how to sail, which obviously ended in an argument every day), so we just watched the crew do their stuff, with little effort (or so it seemed) whilst we did our stuff, also with little effort. Our first stop was in the waters of Anguilla. I had been here about 16 years ago in a former life. I have a very bad memory but can remember this place vividly, pure white sands, turquoise beaches and it hadn’t changed a bit. It’s always the Caribbean island I would recommend to people when asked which one to go to, (look out for my upcoming blog on Antigua to see if I’ve changed my mind) and although it is probably one of the smaller Caribbean islands, it’s also the most beautiful, in my opinion. We all took a swim from the boat up to a little cove with a small beach, some went exploring others just sat and took it all in, and then it was back to the boat for our Salad Nicoise lunch.
After lunch it was time for another little sail, or motor as the wind hadn’t picked up at this point, to a beach a bit further along Anguilla with a couple of small shops and a beach bar where we stopped for a rum punch. After our on-boat cocktails a bit later, we were whisked off again, if you can be whisked off in a dinghy, to Elvis’s beach bar (not that one!) for some more pre dinner cocktails and a game of corn hole. Being English, we had no clue what this was but once we got into the swing of things it was actually quite fun. It’s all about getting a hole in one. with a bean bag and a wooden hole. I didn’t have my glasses on so was nowhere near the hole, although thinking about it even if I did have my glasses on I wouldn’t have got a hole in one. I was rubbish at hand eye co ordination sports at school and obviously still am. Leslie on the other hand excelled herself, with her glasses on, and got a hole in one quite early on, so at this point I quit and went to the other side of the table to watch the game ‘hooked’. A simple game, launching a hook on a piece of string towards another hook tied to a wooden pole, seemed simple enough but actually it wasn’t simple at all, and without the patience of two saints, we all gave up on that one pretty swiftly. Another lady, maybe a local, then had a go and managed to get hooked many times, using many different positions, from the front, from behind, I didn’t see her try from the side. At this point, when she realised we were all watching her in awe, she looked to the side and announced ‘that’s why they call me The Hooker’!!!! Right then!!! Moving swiftly on……… , back to the boat for dinner and lots more food including rum punch pie!!
On offer next was a trip back to St Maarten into Grand Cass. This part of the island seemed to have been hit really badly by Hurricane Irma in 2018, some of the buildings which had clearly been so beautiful, have never recovered and there was something quite sad about our walk through the town, which used to be a haven for beautiful restaurants, and now, despite a few restaurants still open, seemed to only have a handful to choose from. It was still a colourful part of the Island and you could feel the determination to get back to normal from its inhabitants.
Unbeknown to us, whilst we were perusing the island, the crew were busy preparing our very own wine tasting evening. Jose had prepared charcuterie, his own take on salmon blinis, a flat and delicious ham and cheese empanada, some duck a l’orange and teriyaki marinated tuna sashimi. Just delicious, I missed the start of dinner and didn’t realise this was only the canapé part of dinner, so filled my plate to the brim, only to hear someone mention they were full and didn’t think they could handle another course. And sure enough, true to TradeWinds style, Jose simply offered to put our next course on hold until the next evening if we didn’t feel like it and made us all a lovely green salad instead. I really want my very own Jose in my kitchen at home at all times!!
The wines were delicious, some french, some Argentinian, some American, but to my dismay, as an Italian citizen, no Italian. But we all managed to polish off goodness knows how many bottles. It was amazing how well the group had gelled, ranging from 20’s (crew) to 30’s, 40’s 50’s and 60+, we all seemed very happy in each other’s company, I particularly warmed to Leslie and her amazingly positive outlook on life, and felt I could actually come away learning something from her and her wonderful attitude, No shame, no blame, no self loathing, only love. Everybody has choices. Act don’t react. I think I’m going to try living by some of these affirmations for a while to come.
All dietary requirements are catered for on the boats, gluten free, no carbs, no fish, whatever you want, it really was just perfect.
One early morning (9am) we had the option of a massage at the bow of the boat, Kara and I patiently waited for our turn and as the boys stepped down, obviously relaxed and stating that ‘island life’ was the life to have, we got on the beds and awaited the same feeling only to be met by a rain shower. Never having had a massage in the rain it was an interesting experience, oil and water definitely don’t mix and there was no feeling of ‘island life’ for us, but only relief when it was over!
During the trip, the company do try to sell you points to become members so that you can enjoy the lifestyle for many years to come, but it’s not a hard sell at all, and was the butt of a lot of jokes during the trip. Tempting as it was, we already have many other commitments for a few years to come, so whilst having a chat with the lovely Leslie and Dennis about it, we agreed it was a few years too soon for us and as Leslie said, ‘it’s 10 years too late for us! ‘ Shame all round.
There were a few nights when we had dinner on land and ate more delicious island food at Simpson Bay and also Marigot town both in St Martin. On the sail to St Barths the next day, the other half’s hat flew off into the sea during a hairy crossing, thinking he’d lost it for good, we then watched Captain Amy stop the boat, point to the hat in the water, and turn around to get it, the lovely Orla hooked it out the water and put it back on Branton’s head. The crew were beyond excellent stating ‘no one gets sunstroke on my watch’! At this point the very entertaining Todd shouts down the boat, ‘can we turn back to Simpson Bay, I think I left my dignity!!’
I could go on and on giving you an hour by hour account of what we did, where we went, about each dive and snorkel and swim, but I never want to ruin the fun for others who choose to go on and experience the same. Safe to say, this was possibly one of the more entertaining holidays we’ve had in a while, largely helped by the great combination of the people on board, including the crew and the beautiful Caribbean islands and weather. Usually we don’t speak to anyone when we’re away!
We had a pub quiz, a game of Spoons, played Would You Rather and Left Center Right, all great games, My most memorable snorkel was when as soon as we got into the water and towards the rocks, my other half decided to give me the divers sign for shark!! At this point I hastily swam back to the boat to safety on board, only for him to declare that he had signed ‘follow me’ and not ‘shark’. Welcome to life with a dyslexic, even underwater!!
I can only describe the trip as a bitter sweet one, I loved it, yet also hated some things about it, but all were tolerable when you weighed up how much fun was had. When it ended it was literally like being cut from the umbilical cord, we had been so used to having every need and desire catered for and doing very little for ourselves, we didn’t know how to get to the airport, how to order a taxi, Amy best described it from her point of view as having 8 new baby pets every week!!
In conclusion: I loved sleeping to the lull of the boat, yet hated feeling like I was still on the boat when on dry land.
I loved waking up to the sound of laughter on the galley before breakfast, yet hated waking up to the sounds of laughter from the galley before breakfast.
I loved air con time (2 hours at night for this class of boat). For menopausal women like me this was the equivalent to happy hour for alcoholics.
I loved cocktails and canapes at 5, hated that there was so much delicious food my tummy swelled like the ocean!
I loved boat life, I hated boat toilets.
We left the boat a week later, completely full of food, alcohol and laughter, with offers of hospitality from our new found friends. We then made our way back to our hotel for the night, delighted to completely unpack, have somewhere to put ALL our things and proceeded to sleep, undisturbed for the next 13 hours!! Till the next time…….
Read more articles about the Caribbean here