Sailing on a "Tiny" Ship
Increasing numbers of vacationers are opting for intimate vessels able to take them to secluded places.
On the quays leading to a store-lined main street, a scraggly group of hawkers fidgets nervously as they await the imminent onslaught of 1,400+ visitors. At curbside stands bearing English-language signs, they will have short minutes to dispose of their cheap straw hats, their gaudy T-shirts.
As the tenders deposit a regiment of humanity from the giant vessel anchored offshore, noise and confusion erupt. A military band blares away. The first arrivals go dashing to a celebrated perfume shop, while others rush to ranks of foul-smelling tour buses or to stand in line for casino admission.
And that is the scene encountered many times in a single week by Americans sailing through the Caribbean on certain massive cruise ships. Others, repelled by the urban qualities they traveled so many miles to avoid, are opting for a wholly different seagoing experience, on a 'tiny' ship--one that accommodates 60 to 150 passengers and goes to quiet ports or secluded beaches.
In a backlash from current mega-cruiseship trends, a market is growing for yacht-like vessels with shallow drafts enabling them to go directly onto palm-lined shores or to small marinas in cozy bays.
Their customers often are an affluent but unpretentious lot who relax on board in shorts and sandals, follow no schedules at all, and attend no ship 'events'--there aren't any. Ashore, they dine quietly in the fresh-fish restaurant of a backwater town, or lie reading a paperback novel in a rope hammock, hearing nothing but sea gulls and waves.
Among the 'tiny' ships (many of which are marvelous refurbished tall-masted vessels) that bring you that form of paradise are:
Like that cabin boy in Two Years Before the Mast, you'll stumble in dazed excitement onto the teakwood decks of an actual ocean schooner with sails--as sleek as a greyhound, but with the tiny, cot-equipped cabins you'd expect on so narrow a vessel.
You have the run of the entire ship: bowsprit, even crow's nest and at the wheel--and are actually encouraged to help the professional crew with steering the ship. Each day you anchor off a quiet beach or tiny port, to which your lunch is brought by kitchen crew wading through the surf. You live throughout in shorts and sandals, in sheer relaxation or happy camaraderie with like-minded, unpretentious, adventure-seeking people from all over the world who have heard of these renowned ships. They range in size from the 'giant' S/V Legacy (122 passengers) and S/V Polynesia (126 passengers) down to the M/V Amazing Grace (96 passengers), S/V Mandalay (72 passengers), S/V Flying Cloud (66 passengers) and M/S Yankee Clipper (64 passengers, a former scientific survey ship equipped with two large sails). You sail through the Grenadines, the exotic Leeward Islands of the Caribbean, the ABC Islands, the British Virgin Islands, and to other highlights of the West Indies. Windjammer also has cruises to the Bahamas and Las Perlas islands, off Costa Rica.
And you pay only $800 to $1,400 for a six-day cruise in most cabins, plus airfare from the U.S. Persons staying aboard for 12 consecutive nights get (a) $50 discount, and (b) free lodgings on board for the intermediate Saturday and Sunday when the ship is in port. Since the ships vary their itineraries each week, never repeating an island in succession, numerous passengers opt for the two-week pattern and spend their two intermediate nights exploring the port of embarkation on foot, returning each night to the ship for meals and bed.
For details, contact Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, P.O. Box 190120, Miami Beach, FL 33119 (phone toll free 800/327-2601 for reservations or information, 800/327-2602 for brochures or visit its Web site at windjammer.com), and ask them also about their singles' cruises and week-long 'pirate-themed' sailings. For more info, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
American-Canadian Caribbean Line
Budget-priced cruises of Central and South America in winter, the inland waterways of New York State, Rhode Island, Montreal, Quebec, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi and 'Intercoastal' in summer, on yacht-like ships carrying as few as 84 passengers apiece. Rates average $220 per person per day, not including airfare to embarkation cities. On each ship, 'bow ramps' allow passengers to walk, not climb, from the ship to the most isolated and inviting beaches. For literature, contact American-Canadian Caribbean Line, Inc., P.O. Box 368, Warren, RI 02885 (phone 401/247-0955, or toll free 800/556-7450). Or visit the Web site at accl-smallships.com.
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