Sometimes an idyllic travel experience unfolds that’s simply a good reminder to frequent travelers that the beauty of nature is just as magnificent (or even more so) than seeing iconic sites across the globe.
Such was my day yesterday from Sea Cloud Cruises’ intimate Sea Cloud, a magnificent windjammer with capacity for 64 passengers and 60 crew. I’m sailing an 11-night voyage roundtrip from Barbados.
The beauty of a small-ship experience is the ability to sail into nooks and crannies of the ocean – such as quiet coves or small harbors – that larger ships can’t.
Yesterday, the ship anchored in idyllic Chatham Bay, Union Island, in St. Vincent & the Grenadines. It’s on the western side of Union Island where big ships don’t venture. In fact, no paved roads lead to Chatham Bay, so boat travel is the best way to get here.
Sea Cloud was among only 20 or so private yachts anchored in Chatham Bay, one of the last undeveloped anchorages in the Grenadines. Yachts in the harbor flew flags showing their sailors hailed from Canada, the U.S., France, Sweden and other countries.
Union Island, the most southerly of the Grenadines, is nine miles long and about a mile wide. Its population is only 3,000. Few vestiges of civilization were viewable from the bay as the two main towns are on the other side of the island.
As a result, Sea Cloud’s guests felt as though it was a day spent in paradise.
Many of Sea Cloud’s guests started the morning with an “included” four-hour catamaran trip through the gorgeous Tobago Cays, a remote National Marine Park famed for a 1,400-acre sand-bottom lagoon with four islets and a horseshoe-shaped coral reef.
Along the way, fruit punch, rum punch and water were served, and snorkeling equipment was available (except flippers) on the catamaran. In addition, Sea Cloud itself carries snorkeling gear and guests may sign that gear out early in the cruise for the entire journey.
The high density of the Tobago Cays reef, most of it in shallow water, creates an optimum environment for corals and fish, making it a great spot for swimming and snorkeling. Cruisers returned from that excursion “oohing” and “aahing” about sightings of such sea life as colorful fish and a barracuda.
“Musts” for the catamaran trip, if clients desire to go, are sunscreen and a long-sleeved shirt, as the sun is intense in this part of the southern Caribbean. Guests are also cautioned to look at but not touch the coral or it will die.
Chatham Bay Beach
Returning from that snorkeling experience, all guests were invited to head ashore from Sea Cloud (shown below at right) by Zodiac. Our slide show above provides imagery of the luncheon experience ashore at Chatham Bay, with its crescent-shaped ribbon of beach with palm trees.
Dense forests cover steep hillsides adjacent to the beach. As there’s no paved road, a boat is the best way to reach this bay, preserving its off-the-beaten-path feel – as if one is venturing to a remote outpost.
Disembarking their Zodiac at Chatham Bay, guests stepped onto a small floating dock and walked a few hundred feet to the nearby private beach complex called Palm Island.
It had a small swimming pool, an open-air, covered bar area, restrooms, a small boutique and an open-air, covered dining area (outwardly resembling the appearance of a large tiki hut).
But this wasn’t a big Caribbean resort in the typical sense. Simple but comfortable is the best way to describe it, but in conversation later that day back onboard ship, guests generally concurred that “it was heavenly.”
Ocean waters softly lapped the beach sands, brown pelicans soared overhead, trade breezes cooled guests, and birds plunged vertically in a “dive bomb” approach to grab fish from the sea.
Cruise guests grabbed loungers and sunned on the beach, while others floated and bobbed in the ocean or walked the beach. In the open-air pavilions, guests were offered tropical punch, and at 1 p.m., a robust barbecue lunch buffet was ready for guests.
Perhaps most popular was the savory lobster salad; it was also nicely presented (as shown in the slide show above). The buffet also offered fresh salad greens, other vegetable dishes, skewers of fresh veggies just off the grill, baked potatoes, breads and freshly grilled fish, lamb, chicken and beef, among other fare.
During the lunch, crew also poured complimentary red and white wines. Guests sipped rum punch or juice from a fresh coconut. Dessert was a yummy muffin topped with coconut ice cream. A local calypso band entertained with live music.
After lunch, some guests pulled out a book, while others enjoyed conversation with fellow guests or walked the beach. But many simply sat under the shady protection of the dining or bar open-air pavilions and admired the beauty of nature.
Mother Nature cooperated, too – delivering blue skies, sunshine, calm waters and breezes that rippled through the palm trees.
One precaution if clients go, though? Near shore, the shallow water is home to bottom-dwelling sea urchins, so wearing rubber on one’s feet is highly recommended for swimmers and snorkelers.
A bit later Star Clippers’ Royal Clipper also sailed into the bay; its guests headed to a different stretch of beach.
As the afternoon progressed, I headed back via Zodiac to the ship, as I have done so many times from islands across the globe. But the fond memories of my day at Chatham Bay and the gorgeous beauty of nature – in all its simplicity – will linger.
This is just the first in a series of stories about our experiences sailing on Sea Cloud. Next up is a look at our accommodations on the ship, followed by a review of the complete Sea Cloud experience. So, stay tuned.