Girl in Transit: By the Whim of the Wind Sailing the Grenadine Isles
By Barbara Barton Sloane
Making my reservation to sail aboard the Windjammer, I found that I had to get myself to Grenada for embarkation. Yay! I just happened to know that one of the most extraordinary resorts in the world is located there: the renowned Spice Island Beach Resort. I’d visited the property a few years back and this would give me the chance to visit once more.
We Are Family — The Spice Island Beach Resort is a family affair run under the dynamic stewardship of Sir Royston Hopkin and assisted by his children Ryan, Janelle and Nerissa. The resort features a porte-cochere and a dedicated concierge in the lobby area. I visited the luxe, 5,600 square foot Janissa’s Spa and Fitness Centre crafted by famed interior designer Kobi Karp with cascading fountains and shimmering reflecting pools. The spa salon is state-of-the-art with mani-pedi chairs that just looked too inviting to pass up; I sank down in cozy comfort and experienced the ne plus ultra of pedicures – all 75 glorious minutes of it!
Later I made my way to Oliver’s, the Resort’s grand open-air terrace restaurant. Serving both Creole and Mediterranean cuisine. I was just in time to gaze out over Grand Anse Beach and let a pink and gold Caribbean sunset put the final icing on this day’s cake. The Spice Island Beach Resort has been honored by Conde Nast Traveler for “Most Excellent Service in the Americas,” and is the only AAA Four Diamond, Five-star property in Grenada.
Come Sail Away — “Hark now, hear the sailors’ cry. Smell the sea and feel the sky” – Van Morrison
The long-awaited moment: there, before me in Grenada’s harbor, the S/V Mandalay! She looked……interesting. This is decidedly not a spanking new vessel but rather a throwback to a former time when the world was young and romance abounded on the high seas. Built in 1923 for E.F. Hutton as a gift to his wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post, the ship is no longer a sexy lady – but, come on! She’s a revered old grande dame!
Clearly they do not build them this way anymore. Constructed mainly of white spruce, larch, pine and teak, this 236-foot sailing ship is noble and imposing, with a long and storied career as her stately sails took her to exotic ports all over the world. In 1953, she was used for oceanographic research by Columbia University and in 2012, after extensive renovation and restoration, she joined the Windjammer family. Her cabins are no-frills but serviceable and the ship’s interior, including a large bar and communal dining tables is made of rich, burnished wood. With her illustrious history she brings a particular sense of adventure and romance to passengers while, at the same time, profitably supporting small, fragile island economies.
The Sweet Life on the Salty Sea — Shortly after boarding we set sail. Clearing the harbor, the Mandalay’s sails billowed and soared as she leaned over ever so gracefully and her elegant bow cut cleanly into the chop of the waves. Moving now under full sail, I took a deep breath, faced the wind, and broke into a grin of pure joy.
Our group on this voyage was small and intimate. After sharing a few meals at our communal table, we became a close-knit, warm and unified “family” of sorts – something I began to sense was unique to the Mandalay. We sailed the Grenadine Islands. In Bequia, called “Island of the Clouds,” we visited a turtle sanctuary which housed Hawkbill turtles, both hatchlings and adults. In Tobago Cays, we snorkeled with sea turtles. We dropped anchor in Mayreau, an island with a population of just 300 souls.
Hiking up a steep hill, I came upon a tiny stone church, The Church of the Immaculate Conception. The pews were rough-hewn benches, the windows stained glass squares gaily colored yellow, red, blue and green. As I sat there, someone put on a recording of angelic voices singing Gregorian chants. An old padre flung open all the windows to a strong breeze that caught the flags and banners lining the walls. They began waving wildly, calling to mind the film Black Narcissus and the insane winds that blew atop the Himalayas. The mood turned haunting –chanting voices, a cleric garbed in a long white cassock, banners beating against the walls– and yet overall a sense of calm and quietude. Returning on board tired but happy, a welcome wine and cheese party awaited us.
At various ports, we bar crawled where there were always strong rum drinks and good reggae music. One day the crew hauled to shore all the fixings for a beach picnic lunch. Evenings, we engaged in games – a nutty one was called “Battle of the Sexes;” everyone went gung-ho and totally threw themselves into it – a lot of silly fun. After a week we returned to Grenada, our voyage over but not the memories. I’ll always remember lying in a hammock on the top deck at night, rhythmically rising and falling in very choppy seas. Another time I slipped off the ship into calm, azure waters and had a leisurely swim. But perhaps more than anything what will live on is the memory of that singular camaraderie between us and them – the passengers and that lovely and attentive crew.
The music of “Amazing Grace” played an important part on our Mandalay voyage. Each time the sails were raised, the strains of this heavenly hymn swept over the ship. We’d all rush to the deck and watch the crew, hard at work as a bagpiper sounded this poignant melody. Finally, we heard it for the last time as we bid the captain and crew adieu and descended the gangplank. Holding back tears, I took one last look at this sailing ship, hoping that she would be preserved and cherished – she deserves no less – she’s earned it!
A sad note: Regretfully due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Windjammer Mandalay has been unable to weather this storm of ill winds, has quietly folded her sails and become just a lovely but nostalgic memory. (see alternative small ship cruise below)
If You Go:
Spice Island Beach Resort
Barbara Barton Sloane is a Pelham-based Travel Editor/Columnist who writes for a number of both national and international publications. She delights in sharing her global travel experiences with our readers.