A Drinking Ship With a Sailing Problem
Windjammer Barefoot Cruises has long been known for its fun-loving ways. But is the party finally over?
Windjammer really wants passengers to have fun. In the evenings, there were group activities and contests, such as hermit-crab races, a "sexy scavenger hunt," and a battle of the sexes in which the guys were asked questions about shopping and the girls were quizzed about sports. But it was also perfectly fine to opt out, read, or just stare at the azure water.
One afternoon, when we spotted a big cruise ship--a "foo foo ship," in Jammer-speak--the regulars started to vibrate with excitement. Crew members raced to the deck with a giant pirate flag and ran it up the mast. The sound system blared "The Ride of the Valkyries." A deckhand affixed a small brass cannon to the ship's railing, then loaded it with gunpowder shells. There was a deafening boom and a huge puff of smoke. "Reload!" yelled Captain Julian. Boom! Boom! Boom! "Give us your women or we'll keep firing!" (Blanks, but still.) Several Jammers leaned over the side and mooned the cruise ship.
The mandatory costume party--"no costume, no dinner"--tested our creativity. The theme was Pirates, Pimps, Prostitutes, Black Tie, Lingerie, Toga. You had to pick one, or dress as something that started with a P, B, L, or T. I wrapped a towel around my head, stuck two Hershey's Kisses on it, and went as a towel sculpture; Jonathan sighed and put on my bra. The well-prepared Jammers really did it up, in elaborate pirate gear. Some of our fellow virgins, though less prepared, came through with shining creativity. A woman whose luggage never materialized during the cruise wore a Windjammer T-shirt she had bought on the ship with a pillow stuffed under it and a piece of paper pinned to her front saying "Didn't, Wouldn't, Shouldn't." She was a pregnant pirate with contractions. The 20-something Bud-drinking narcotics-squad cop rifled through his wife's lingerie and emerged from his cabin as a Playboy bunny. Whenever the tail fell off, he'd carefully and lovingly pin it back on to his rear.
Later that night was the Miss Windjammer Contest, in which two guys compete in drag. One contestant, a med-school student, flitted across the deck in a blond wig, a minidress, pink nail polish, and Hershey's Kisses for nipples. When asked why he should win, he simpered, "Love is one of the many things I spread throughout the islands!"
Sometimes the goofy togetherness got to be a bit much, but we couldn't really retreat to our cabin. It was barely big enough for a bunk, a shower, and a few shelves. It was also a "hot room," as Jammers called it, meaning it was right next to a chimney from the engine room; the bathroom was probably 105 degrees. (Whenever I told a Jammer we were in Cabin 7, he'd start laughing.) Still, the cabin was air-conditioned, and the mattresses were firm and comfortable.
Also on the plus side, the food was good, non-fancy, and plentiful. Jonathan and I fell hard for the addictive, spicy mango- and hot-pepper-based sauces--Kutchela, Calypso, Flambeau, and Hot Chow--available at every meal. And my very first Caribbean mango made me swoon. It was easy to peel, addictive to eat, juicy and complex and floral, and it tasted nothing like the ones at home. Babu, the steward, sweetly kept me a stash of mangoes, presenting them like bouquets throughout the trip.
Not all the camaraderie on board involved Benny Hill¿like naughtiness. Whenever we'd set sail, everyone was invited to help hoist the sails while a bagpipe version of "Amazing Grace" played on the ship's speakers. I'm from Rhode Island and grew up watching tall ships in Newport Harbor, but I had never been a passenger on one. I loved the cooperative effort of raising the sail--and the fact that it was the only work I did for a week.
On a Windjammer cruise, the sails are usually augmented with the motor. This may annoy sailing purists, but it did not annoy me, because have I mentioned how I'm all about the not whining? Besides, unless there's a lot of wind, the ship needs the motor to reach the next island. One time, when we did sail with no motor, Captain Julian yelled, "I just saved Windjammer $500!"
We generally "sailed" at night and spent days onshore. I sprang for four excursions and loved three. (I could've skipped the Jeep tour of St. Vincent, where our guide actually intoned: "There is a KFC. Over there is a bank. Over there is another bank. There are a lot of banks.")
My favorite was the tour of Grenada, which included stops at a postcard-perfect waterfall and at a spice plantation. (Grenada, which produces about 20 percent of the world's nutmeg, is known as the Isle of Spice.) I felt like I got a sense of a real place, where real people lived. The van was swanky; our guide knew what he was talking about; the spice plantation was like something from the 18th century. Cocoa pods lay drying in the sun in giant wooden trays that slid out from under the old stone building like bureau drawers. An elderly woman named Delta showed us how to use nutmeg oil for topical pain relief. We learned that mace is actually the crumbly red skin of the nutmeg seed; that fresh bay leaves smell nothing like their dried cousins; that cinnamon sticks are rolled-up scrolls of tree bark. We peeked into the sweat house where cocoa seeds and pulp are left to ferment; we watched women silently husking nutmegs and tossing the seeds and skins into hollowed-out calabash shells; and we peered up a wooden ladder into an attic where the nutmegs were stored. The mingled scents of spices stayed with us all the way back to the ship.