Port Wines, Century Old Vines and Ancient times along the Douro River in Portugal with Viking Cruises

It felt incredibly indulgent: hopping from my cozy bed just long enough to toss the curtains open, then plunging back into the covers so I could sip coffee while watching the dramatic landscape of Portugal’s Douro Valley ease by the boat. Passing hillsides are carved with narrow terraces from 800 years ago, their singular purpose to provide level space in the impossibly vertical terrain for growing port wine grapes. The landscape looks woven and pleated, a textured view of the mountains as seen sparkling in the sunlight from the river.

We had a whole week on the Douro River, which seems to be marked by the contrast between trips to its historic shores and comforts of the easy, modern river passages.

Mountain climbs up and down restless switchback roads in extremely comfortable coaches led to wandering around in narrow, ancient streets so old you could hear the sigh of ages. You could put your shoes where others had walked wearing clanking armor and touch walls covered in hand-painted tiles centuries old.

Returning to the boat, life was filled with soothing movement along both narrow and wide parts of the peaceful river aboard s/v Hemming. The evening begins with cocktails, chatting about the day’s experiences, and news of tomorrow’s adventures from the brilliant program director, Alexandra. The organization of excursions is smoothly and professionally executed for a variety of activity level preferences and led by guides who make all transitions effortless.

Portugal may not be famous for its exotic cuisine, but Viking Hemming might be the oasis of inspired dining for all meals: luscious dinners in the handsome white linen dining room were exquisite (and frequently followed by live music and dancing in the lounge.

Our cabin was very comfortable for two, including a small living room where I tended to stretch out before dinner, pretending to read but actually just drifting with the passing scenery. The veranda off the sitting room became our pre-breakfast coffee nook while the French porch off the bedroom allowed us to open the sliding door and enjoy the warm evening breezes off the river at night without fear of taking an accidental swim.

We found ourselves in a new environment at every turn: from the vibrant twin cities of Porto and Gaia to venerable teeming universities; from ancient, whispering castles and fierce stone fortresses to small cozy towns of only a few farmhouses. Portugal is not a land of fences – most places, you can rest on a wall built during the Crusades or run your hands over the centuries-old carvings on a cathedral’s lintel. That removed, museum quality so frequent at historic sites is not here – instead, you can believe for a moment that you might have lived in this world.

And history abounds in Portugal. As it was not bombed during WWII, there are buildings still standing which were constructed in the 1400s. Time spent surrounded by these ancient beauties is time well spent. An afternoon at Castelo Rodrigo, for example, a fortress built in 1209, passed walking the shoulder-width granite cobbled paths and marveling at how much of this old stone place was still standing; more of it is being reconstructed by UNESCO.


The seemingly 100-mile view from the top made it easy to understand why this spot was chosen for the stone fortress some 800 years ago; how they built it, however, was much harder to imagine. Two churches, several homes and sheds all made of stone with narrow, winding streets between, a minaret, and a synagogue, all safely sheltered from invaders on top of this mountain, surrounded by endless stone wall. Quite a thing.

The modern Castelo Rodrigo has a few small shops selling local handmade sweaters and crafts, a tiny restaurant and café making sandwiches and pastries, and of course, the vendor offering a wide array of  local port wines. All these are nestled in old stone structures that insist you duck to enter the doorways. Where there were hundreds of people here centuries ago, there remain only 16. While the restoration work progresses slowly, Castelo Rodrigo exudes charm and a sense of hand-built grace that you can feel in every stone you rest your fingers on.

Each day brought a new, magical experience. One evening found us boarding our coaches for a short ride to Convento de Alpendurada for dinner in the gothic vaulted cellars of a beautifully-kept monastery. The next morning’s late breakfast onboard turned into a race of sorts as a tiny, easter egg colored train chugged alongside the river.

Post-race, we visited Mateus Palace — that’s right, the one from the bottles of wine in which we all over-indulged during the 60s. It is still lived in by the same family that built it centuries ago and still guards the seemingly endless fields of grapes and flowers, formal and maze gardens. I found the reflecting pool I remembered from the bottle, still creating a magical illusion, perfect symmetry with occasional ripples.

The university town of Cuimbra was another highlight — this is the very town where J.K. Rowling studied and which served as the site for her Harry Potter’s magical school Hogwarts. Rowling was faithful in her depiction, right down to the hooded, floor-length black capes worn by the students. At one time, Cuimbra was the largest city in Portugal, until the cities of Porto and Gaia surpassed it as financial capitols, thanks to trade routes with China and South America.

Cuimbra is also famous for its unique brand of Fado, the Portuguese form of musical storytelling. Incredibly dramatic, Fado is almost like a one-person opera telling the story of love, loss or pride by highly revered singers, generally accompanied by one or two stringed instruments. This is very serious stuff to the performers, and in Cuimbra, the singers of Fado are akin to demigods.

The library at Cuimbra is divided into three segments on the subjects of Law, Medicine, and Natural Science & Astronomy. Impossibly tall tiers with more than 3,000 books each, accessed by rolling ladders, with sections painted in dark red, dark green or black and heavily trimmed in gold, each containing the world’s total knowledge of those three subjects on intricately carved shelves, gilded rails, and hard-carved wooden ladders – so invitingly beautiful you want to climb about and read them all.

Every day was filled with these adventures. From our start at Lisbon, where we walked the tiny, cobbled streets of Alfama (which remains an intimate community of families who have shared alleys so small you could practically shake hands with your neighbor across the street), to the old port of Belem where the wealthy merchants built enormous wooden fortresses after the devastating earthquake of the mid-1700s so they could watch their gold- and spice-laden ships come and go from the working harbor.

Port wine is an all consuming  topic in Portugal, and they love their wines with a passion. We visited at least one winery each day, and sure enough as you went along you really did could discern the difference between the vineyards.  Technically, in order to capitalize the “P” in Port Wine, it must come from the Douro Valley and have an alcohol content between 20-23 percent.  Ruby Portos are not aged long, just 1-3 years. Tawny Portos can be aged for decades in huge wooden barrels while colors fade and sugars mellow. All are sweet though, and is meant to be enjoyed without further aging although an open bottle will stay tasty for up to a month due to its higher alcohol levels.

The Douro River trip is a peaceful one: once you get past the first lock, you travel from lake to lake with lazy elevator rides in the ship in between. The terrain is restless, lush, and dotted with farmhouses, vineyards, and small towns. The excursions are diverse and captivating, the staff professional. I am already looking forward to luxuriating on my next adventure on the river with Viking!

Viking River Cruises to the Douro River Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQK9xpwmFa4#action=share

Clip from Upscale Living Magazine

Slideshow of the Meteus Palace: http://www.getportugal.com/en/poi-palacio-de-mateus-15281

Castelo Rodrigo:  http://www.visitcentrodeportugal.com.pt/castelo-rodrigo/

Reviews of Portugal’s Port wines:  http://wine.bestcovery.com/best-port-wines

SIDEBAR: Port Wines

Strange as it sounds, the sweet wine that we know as Port owes its popularity to the fact that the  French and the British were squabbling in the 18th century, and the British blocked the  French harbors to shipping which shut off  french wine exports like a tap.


The  British turned to Portugal for its requirement. The Portuguese  began fortifying  their wines with local brandy to raise the alcohol level so that the wine would not spoil as it was shipped in barrels to be bottled on site. This brandy stopped the fermentation leaving a higher sugar level than traditional wines,  a sweeter taste and a higher alcohol level. Since it was shipped from the Douro River city of Oporto it became known as Port Wine.

There are three main types of  port wine: White, Ruby and Tawny.  White  Ports are meant to be drunk young, although some of it does get aged. Ruby Port is barrel aged, also intended to be drunk while young and tend to have a more fruity flavor. Tawny Ports are aged in smaller barrels and have a tawny color.

Just because anything this rarefied could not possibly be so simple, there are dozens of sub categories to each of these type s including Vinho Verde, Vintage and LBV (Late Bottled Vintage).

While on the Viking Douro River  cruise we visited a winery almost every day and sampled offerings from Burmester, Sanderman, Taylors and Croft  as well as many blends. There is a very wide variety, really something for every palate. In addition, the portugese use these wines for desserts, as well as mixing lemon and seltzer with some which I found wonderful on a hot day.

Edruska: A Luxury Cruise in the Caribbean for 5 (Very) Lucky Women.

The ultimate.

The ultimate.

We are a group of five women, 3 professionals on vacation and two teenagers. We are all eager to sail, snorkel and explore as much of the Caribbean as we can fit into our week trip.

I had read a short history of the Virgins as named by Columbus in 1493 after St. Ursula and her following of 11,000 virgins who were attacked by the Huns and sacrificed their lives rather than submit to a fate less tolerable. Spain laid claim to this territory at the time, as it did with the Americas. There was a frontier mentality on the archipelago, which makes an arch from Trinidad to Florida. The native Caribs, who gave us the word “cannibal” already inhabited these islands. They had already absorbed the other native group, the Arawaks, and viewed the Spanish as more fresh dinner. Even the force of the Inquisition was not enough to conquer the determined violence of the Caribes.

IMG_0103As Spain’s hold on this territory began to fade, other nations began to use the Virgin Islands at a trading post due to their convenient location. Piracy flourished, and the term “privateer” was created to mean a sort of loosely legitimized brand of piracy for the benefit of the English, Dutch, French and Danish nations. Eventually colonization began to stabilize the evolving agrarian society based largely on sugar cane plantations, and brought with it the slave trade. In 1717 a census reports 625 people on the island of Virgin Gorda, half of them black. By 1750 the population had grown to nearly 2,000 with the largest number of them being slaves. The sugar beet became a cash crop in Europe at that time, which severely impacted the cane plantations, leading to slave revolts on all the islands. By 1800 the slaves were freed and the white population had all but deserted these islands. In 1893 it is reported that there were only two white men in the BVI, the Deputy Governor and the doctor. The economy was practically non-existent, and in 1917 the Danish islands were sold to the US as a strategically defensive position for protecting approaches to the Panama Canal. Eventually the unspoiled environment and comfortable climate of these islands began to attract tourists, and the islands themselves began to create a stable economy for the residents.

IMG_0926What we are presented with now is friendly people, living laid back lives in an outrageously beautiful cluster of islands. Our charter began at Road Town, Tortola, where we spent the night at Village Cay Marina before departure. The open cab ride up and down the hills and out to Cane Garden Bay for dinner was an adventure timed perfectly for a dramatic tropical sunset revealing the adjacent islands. We walked along the sand to select one of the half dozen ocean front restaurants for dinner. Open porches on a wide white beach, live music, good food and the sun setting over the masts in the bay was our introduction to the Caribbean.

After dinner, we decided to drop by Bomba’s Shack, a popular hang out on Tortola. The structure is made entirely out of drift wood, beach findings and ladies’ underwear. This is a wild experience, and not to be missed. Built entirely out of driftwood with the underwear of visitors who cannot resist an evening swim stapled to the rafters, It became in my mind the world’s largest lingerie display! Every driftwood surface was covered with hand written notes which dated back only to the previous hurricane. After each major storm a brand new supply of ocean worn building materials is delivered to the beach for rebuilding the completely erased previous structure. This has been going on for nearly 40 years. The music was impossible to resist, the other visitors were laid back and friendly, and the famous Bomba Shack Full Moon Party was on!

IMG_0985The first thing I noticed walking up the pier to board S/Y Edruska the next morning was how elegant she looked. Captain Alan Reynolds and his wife Jo-Anne were as welcoming as the yacht herself. Edruska is a 63′ Richleigh Yacht designed by Rich Ford. During his nine years of chartering he meticulously recorded the details of what makes a charter boat powerful to sail and comfortable to live aboard. These notes were central to the design of the yacht, and proved to be very effective at designing a fast sailing boat that is spacious and easy to live aboard. It is not hard to understand why the Virgin Islands are world famous as a cruising destination. USVI and BVI offer short hops between islands, line of site navigation, calm waters, plenty of wind and overall great sailing. Distance between islands is such that you can easily have breakfast in one spot, have a beautiful passage followed by lunch and snorkeling in another spot, and then head out again for a sail to a different anchorage in time to catch a sunset. We left Road Town and had a one hour sail to the harbor of Maya Cove on Buck Island off the eastern end of Tortola. The water is so clear that it is impossible to tell the depth, the beach is white and pristine. We were the only boat there, alone in paradise.

IMG_0933Lunch was served on deck, comfortably under the awning. Cold tortellini salad, with salami and fresh crunchy red peppers, chilled white wine and fruit with one of Jo-Anne’s special sauces on top was the first indication that we were in for many culinary treats on board Edruska. After lunch we headed to The Bitter End, Virgin Gorda. The breeze blew at 12 knots, and proud Edruska made clean and exhilarating passage. Our two 19-year-olds Katie and Jordan had a real desire to learn to sail, and Alan proved to be an experienced and talented instructor. All afternoon the girls were at the helm with Alan quietly near. They learned to feel the hull passing through the water, watch the shape and tension of the sail, observe the wind over the water, and generally perceive the boat as an animal interacting with her environment. He encouraged them to understand the primitive and the romance, but also to read the well laid out instrumentation. We were Gods of the ocean in the buttery afternoon sun as Edruska’s fine hull cut through the water with that telltale shiver of full optimization.

Virgin Gorda is 10 miles long with some peaks rising to 1000 feet over glistening beaches. As we approached, we could see boulders standing up out of the water, which gave way to wide, white stretches of sand. The vegetation comes in a perfectly orchestrated tapestry of color and texture, culminating in a horizon peppered with more of the giant boulders which just barely cleared the trees. The turquoise water below and azure skies above seemed to wrap themselves around this uncluttered place in peaceful isolation. The sun set over the stern, while the full moon rose over the bow. Life aboard a proud ship in the company of friends both old and new created the sense that we all wanted time to stop right here. Alan delivered fresh tropical frozen cocktails, while Jo-Anne made a snack of mushroom caps filled with mixed cheeses. Dinner was sea bass with a very thin crust of potato and Jo-Anne’s wizardry with spices. Next came fresh sweet peaches and sliced almonds in créme frâiche topped with cinnamon.

laurenThe next morning we set sail for a spot at the southern end of Virgin Gorda called The Baths. At first sighting we found huge boulders littered along the shore, and then in piles sprinkled with palm trees which formed the tip of the island. Alan ran us over to the beach in the dinghy and told us to take the “lovely path.” The path is actually a trail through the piles of mammoth boulders. Water flows between them in places, forming turquoise pools large enough to swim in with streams of sunlight poking through. We played like children happily going from one beautiful space to another, over, under, around and between the rocks, swimming in sun streaked caves, and scrambling around the sandy paths. Lovely indeed.

Meanwhile, back on Edruska, Jo-Anne was fixing crab tortillas with shrimp sauce. When we were finally lured in from exploring the shore with promises of lunch, the table was all set. Snorkeling was one of our priorities, so Alan began to plan a route that would take us to the most beautiful spots at the right times of day. The BVI and USVI offer plenty of activity for those who would like to dance under the stars, but we were interested in good sailing, dramatic sunsets, quiet evenings and good camaraderie aboard. So, after another delicious meal, we set sail for Norman Island. The wind was up and we had a fine sail while we sat in the stern and talked with Jo-Anne about the islands that we were passing Ginger, Cooper, Salt and Peter.

eveningWe sailed to Soldiers Bay for the evening and there was nobody else around, just what we wanted. It had been a great day filled with coral and fish, paddling the kayak, and laced with excellent food. The moon performed again, and Alan gave us his night vision glasses. That is when we discovered that there is barely any space between the stars once you can see them all. The three cabins on Edruska are very comfortable, air conditioned and roomy, each with its own head & shower. Still, I slept on the fore deck cushions that night, because the sky was as big and bright as I had ever seen it. As I watched the stars emerge and listened to the gentle lapping at the hull, I felt like the luckiest woman in the universe. Being out in the air under the stars infuses your soul with a kind of poetry and connection to the islands.

breakfastThe next morning began at a lazy pace. I woke to the inviting smell of coffee and cooking in the galley. My friends emerged at their own comfortable times. Breakfast was served on deck, enough for twice as many as we were, and lots of variety. Over the three-course breakfast we discussed the tans that we were acquiring, and I was elected to ask the question. I told Alan that I currently did not have any tan lines, and was hoping not to get any. He had heard this from guests before and said that he would simply announce himself before coming forward on deck. From then on, the forward cushions were known as Lido Beach and total tanning was on.

Our photographer Dana is fearless, and she asked Alan if he would put her to the top of the mast in the boson’s chair. He was happy to oblige. She took of the islands from the top spreader. Watching her up there prompted me to want to see the view from 88 feet up. Before long the others wanted to go up too. My sister Audrey went only as far as the first spreader, due to her concerns with heights. Our captain was very attentive to the person in the boson’s chair and he stopped immediately at the first sign of her discomfort. It was an easy ride down whenever each of us was ready. Alan told me that no other guests had asked for this particular adventure, but from the mast you can see over the islands, from horizon to horizon and down into the coral reefs under the clear turquoise water. Alan wanted us to see The Caves on Norman Island, so we moved Edruska around the point.

Dana had her Nikonos loaded, and armed with a plastic bag full of bread we swam over. The amount and variety of marine life was amazing, and the fish emerged from every crevice when we began to feed them. We even had some time in the company of a sea turtle. The caves themselves are big enough to swim into, and contain a kind of glittery light that makes you want to stay forever. After lunch at the caves we set sail for Lameshur Bay, on St. John’s East End. The afternoon sail was so fast and beautiful that we were all hoping that it would take longer. After anchoring we took a drive into Cruise Bay to do a little necessary souvenir shopping and to clear customs, as this was now the USVI. The mountain road is treacherous with switchbacks and drop offs. The bay road offers incredible views into the turquoise bays. St John’s is 3/4s National Forest, so there are plentiful hiking trails.

anagadaWe arrived back in time for a sunset hike to the farthest eastern point, Ram’s Head. It’s an easy one-mile walk through low shrub, with a variety of cacti. From here there are dramatic views back on to Salt Pond and towards Tortola. We saw a glorious sunset enroute, and got back to Edruska just before dark. Alan’s justly famous frozen pina coladas were served with baked mussels. Dinner was Grouper with salad followed by chocolate souffl� and a dramatic celestial display.

We woke to another perfect day in paradise. Alan is a dive instructor, and Edruska has tanks aboard but the water is only 30′ or so deep and perfectly clear for snorkeling. We set out from the stern with snorkels and swam out to the point. We saw a huge barracuda along the way, and lots of different fish and corals, but the big treat was that we got to hang out with a sea turtle. Alan went right to the bottom and swam next to it looking for all the world like a dolphin. We also found two different types of rays, and some squid during our swim, but it was time to head around to the north side of St. John. Edruska did her thing at 9.5 knots with the gennaker up, and we had a fabulous passage to Leinster Bay, where we stopped for another suit expanding lunch of salmon salad completed by carrots carved into palm trees, green pepper slices for fronds, with olives standing in for cocoa nuts. There is a small island at the entrance to Leinster Bay which demanded exploring, and a wide view of the Sir Francis Drake Channel and Tortola. The kayak went into the water again, and some of us snorkeled. Again we all hoped that time would stop and leave us in this clear water, under sunny skies on a sailing yacht surrounded by good friends. We motored around the point to find anchorage for the evening in Francis Bay. By then it was that lovely time when Alan would come up the companionway with yet another variety of his now legendary island concoctions.

The Savior of the Sea in Little Harbor on Jost van Dyke

The Savior of the Sea in Little Harbor on Jost van Dyke


Dana, Audrey and I firmed up our plans to hijack Edruska. We told Alan and Jo-Anne our plans and they described headlines reading “Crew Resists All Attempts at Rescue.” The next morning we headed for Christmas Cove on the western point of St. John. The girls snorkeled with a spotted ray that Alan told us is always there to greet his guests. In the afternoon we headed for Jost Van Dyke. This was going to be our only real land based party. As the evening came on we decided to have dinner at Foxy’s. This is a spot famous for good food, cold beer and excellent music. We danced late into the night, and slept late into the morning. All of us would tell you not to miss an evening on Jost, because it really makes you feel that life is grand and time is simply irrelevant.

We had become one family of explorers during this week in the Caribbean, and could not believe that it was coming to a close. Just to spend a bit more time together we made plans for dinner at a night spot called Latitude 18 in Red Hook, St Thomas. The girls had hand painted a T-shirt for Alan, which we brought with us and presented with great ceremony. We danced to El Gato Grande until we simply could not dance any longer. It was the perfect ending to a perfect week of roaming free in paradise.

Charter Contact:
Richleigh Yachts
e-mail rich63@ix.netcom.com

Cruising Under Four Masts; Luxury, Elegance and the Poetry of Sail

A half dozen huge white sails drove the 320’ four masted schooner north up the pacific coast of Panama towards Costa Rica through Tiffany box blue water. As an early riser, I arrived on deck just as the sun broke over the coastal cliffs. I grabbed a cup of coffee and a croissant in the main salon lounge before heading up to a higher deck to enjoy the poetry of a morning under sail. Alone on deck, I could fully appreciate this lovely craft for what it was, a real sailing vessel. Although positioned as a “cruise” you will find no gambling casino here, no mall or arcade, just the beauty of a seaworthy ship as it does what it does best, under sail.

We had boarded the afternoon before, leaving Balboa Panama before dark. Luggage arrived at our handsome cabin and we changed out of travel weary clothing to explore our home for the next week. Our cabin had a very nice “head” (bathroom), many closets and storage spaces, a dresser and two comfortable beds. It was compact, as most sailing ships are, but very functional and comfortable.

On deck hors d’oeurvres and cocktails were served at the Tropical Bar where Charly played music on his electronic keyboard while we met many of our companions for the week. The ship carries up to 100 guests, which is a great size as there are plenty of people to meet, but not so many that you get lost among them. We decided to dine with the people we met at the bar that evening, and as suspected, they were a bit more adventurous, interesting and frankly, humorous  than you would have found on a “celebrity cruise”.

Dinner that first night was a delicious surprise. The dining room is a throwback to old fashioned European luxury with brocade curtains, gold velour fabric seats, starched white table cloths and heavy silverware. The dinner menu offered several options for a wide variety of pallets, accompanied by wonderful wines that came in cobalt blue bottles with the ship’s logo on them. All guests enjoyed this elegance in casual evening attire. The cumulative effect is quiet dining, interesting multi course offerings, perfect service and a charming experience. Just when you thought you couldn’t touch another bite, your waiter hands you an irresistible dessert menu! It confirmed for me that this was not any kind of weight loss excursion.

Days began with breakfasts being an enormous buffet of hot and cold choices along with an omelet bar where a chef makes custom egg dishes for each guest. Lunches always had a large salad bar including all of the elements to make up any kind of sandwich you could think of, and then of course there was the luscious lunch menu offered by your waiter. At 5 PM everyone gathered on the main salon deck for cocktails and hors d’oeurvres. Dinner started at 7:30 or so followed by live music in the lounge courtesy of the irrepressible Charly, and if there was any possibility that you might still be hungry at midnight, there was a large buffet presented. Honestly the food never ends aboard Star Flyer!

Each day was filled excursions which were mostly about exploring coastal nature. There were whale watching trips, picnics on islands, a zip line through the Costa Rican canopy opportunity, swimming and snorkeling and a bit of shopping ashore. Each day ended with the dramatic ceremony of raising the sails and setting back out to sea. One evening our captain brought his bagpipes on deck and piped the sun down as the enormous sails unfurled and began to catch the wind. Made my heart sing.

IMG_8020Captain Klaus Mueller spoke elegantly on the subject of the rare opportunity presented by sailing for living with the cycle nature. The world beyond the rails slowly drifts from your mind as the salt air, and rithmic waves fill days and nights. During the week we saw dolphins alongside the ship on several occasions as we all slowed down, giving time to watching the sea roll by and the sky migrate from cool morning colors to mid day fierceness into warm glorious sunsets. After dinner guests would frequently gather on deck to watch the stars and enjoy an aperitif.

I am an experienced cruise guest, and an avid sailor, with thoroughly salty blood. My first thought about the other guests on board was that they would also be sailors but I was surprised. While many were sailors, this luxury yacht provided a wonderful travel platform for people who just want to enjoy a different kind of travel luxury, something slower and more organic. It appears that they were surprised as well by how gentle and slow their thoughts became under sail.

With slightly more than a hundred people on board, I met two people who had never even been off the land before, a few people who had cruised before but never under sail, and several who used to sail often but due to age, injury or arthritis just could not continue sailing. The compliment was large enough for a nice mix and small enough that we made real friends, the kind we will see again.

There are three Star Clipper Sailing Yachts and they move around the planet all the time. You can join a leg of the trip, or just stay aboard. When we boarded in Panama about half of the people we met had come from the other side of the Panama Canal. Some had come all the way from the Med! When we left the boat, many were staying on for the next leg of the journey north.

It was a charming (if fattening) week and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a relaxing passage at sea. The boat schedule is posted on their web site so you can pick a leg to join on any of the ships. Flyer is the smallest of the fleet, but I am sure the quality of life, the extraordinary culinary delivery, and the attention to detail around every guest’s enjoyment is the same on any of the ships. Perhaps our paths will cross out there under four masts as certainly this particular “lemming” will head for the sea again!

Information about Star Clipper Cruising

Feature will be published in the April Issue of Upscale Living Magazine

Captain Cocktail’s Guide to the BVI

Some of the guys who play at Foxy’s

The Caribbean is world famous for the kind of outrageous fun had by kids when the teacher leaves the room. Its blend of azure water, glistening islands, excellent food, casual atmosphere and constant breezes with line of sight navigation for sailors attracts visitors like lemmings. In essence you would have to work really hard not to have a good time in this island paradise.

Some attribute this draw to the fact that in this part of the world it is the mixer that is the expensive part of the cocktail, and therefore the part that the barkeep is stingy with. After dozens of visits there myself I think it is really simpler than that. The minute you step off the plane you can sense in the air that you have landed in the epicenter of fun. Each island has its own contribution to make to the mix and I would like to offer some of my favorite “tings”.

I usually fly to Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands commonly called the BVI. It used to be a funny little tin roofed airport building which had walls only most of the way around it, and turquoise water right up to the tarmac around most of the runway. Welcome to Beef Island. One time I rolled my luggage from the under the roof across the runway and onto a small dock, hopped into a skiff and climbed aboard a 63’ sailboat which was gently swaying in the wash of the jets coming and going overhead. 10 minutes later we were under sail in the golden hour before sunset with fresh fruit rum drinks and 75 degree breezes over the deck. It doesn’t get much better than that. They have modernized (notice that I didn’t say improved) the airport building since then, but the little dock to the harbor is still there.

Another clue to the nature of the British Virgin Islands can be found in the airport and on each of the islands. When you first enter the BVI unless you hold a British passport you must do what is known locally as “clearing in”. Passport in hand you see two signs; one for “visitors” and one for “belongers”. Some of us visit these islands to enjoy a very special attitude about life and the living of it in an environment tailor made for celebration. Still it is never quite forgotten that the “belongers” invented it. The signs have been changed in the recent past, but the distinctions remain.

Being a sailor I have visited most of these islands by boat. Whether you come by skiff, bareboat charter or in the rarified luxury of a superyacht this is clearly a boat person’s paradise. In my mind afloat is the best way to get to know the region. In case of emergency (as in you can’t get your own boat) there are ferries and small shuttles to get around but one of the things that I love about the BVI is that there is nowhere for a Cruise ship to park.

Arabella, cabin charter at it’s finest.

One of the finest ways that I know to see many islands in a week enjoying the boat life is by boarding the lovely Arabella. This 156’ four masted schooner has 20 staterooms and is a wonderful introduction to a half dozen islands while seeing many of the famous beaches, snorkeling spots, sampling restaurants and relaxing at beach bars. No sailing skills required.

For those who prefer life “on the hard” each island has its own style, some are large, busy and bustling with places to enjoy every kind of tropical adventure. The largest of these is Tortola with something for everyone! The smallest might be Sandy Spit, which is probably the island that cartoonists are thinking of when they draw the guy alone under a single Palm tree surrounded by endless horizon. It might be 200 feet long and 100 feet wide and a few inches larger at low tide. It supports one palm tree and several dozen scrub bushes surrounded by wide white beach of the kind you dream about during the gales of November. But it pays to remember that you could be alone there so bring your own “fixings”!

If you would rather be served than brown bag it, the BVI has way more variety in food and drink than anyone could guess would be packed into a few dozen islands. Fruit, fish, spices and veggies are fresh and abundant all through the islands, and creativity has no bounds. Among my favorites are sweet potato encrusted red snapper served on banana leaves, Callaloo lobster, Conch fritters cooked over a 50 gallon oil drum and you should try every roti that you come upon, dipped into some kind of fresh fruit chutney. You will miss it when you go home!

Foxy’s Taboo

Some of the best food in the islands comes from the most unlikely looking places, casual beach bars are always good at any time of day.

If your mission was to go from bar to bar up the Sir Francis Drake Passage your liver would be waving a little white flag before you got around your second island. The islands are justly famous for taking reality in very small doses and locally made high octane in large ones. And remember the bit about the cost of mixers? Since some selectivity is required just to get by, these are a few of my favorites.

The Savior of the Sea in Little Harbor on Jost van Dyke

I walked up from the water of Little Harbor on Jost Van Dyke, past the shell encrusted “savior of the sea” and into Ivan’s No Stress Bar. No stress indeed, no bartender either. The note on the counter said “make your drink, start your tab, pay it when you leave.” That’s right, this was the famous honor bar, a place that never closes because time has no meaning. You really will lose any stress that survived the trip to Jost sitting with your feet in the sand watching the boats rock gently at anchor surrounded by nothing but perfect beach and gentle waves. Jost Van Dyke has only about 200 residents but it is a very good place for a visit.

While you are there you should walk over the hill to the beach that they call Great Harbor. Foxy’s is probably the most famous of all the beach bars in the region, famous for food, famous for music and famous for Foxy himself. Of all the places in the BVI this is the legendary place to spend new years eve, which by default means new years day as well. Get ready for the wooden boat regatta held then, anything made of wood that still floats will qualify you for one of the really crazy events that kick off the year.

Another time I happened to arrive on Tortola at the full moon, which means exactly one thing to the island wise – Bomba Shack. Perched between the narrow road and the wide beach on Apple Bay is a ramshackle collection of corrugated tin strips, sea washed beach timber, old bicycle frames and hand painted signs. The first one I noticed said “if you want a Bomba t-shirt, get naked and give him your underwear”. That is when I noticed that every inch of every rafter had sun bleached underwear wafting in the dark night breeze. Bomba must go through a lot of t-shirts! Still, mushroom tea is legal, the live music was great, the beer was icy cold while the sand was still warm, the full moon glittered over a luminescent sea although so far I have never seen one of these t-shirts handed over.

Welcome to the Cooper Island Yacht Club

If end of the universe tranquility is on your search list, it is pretty hard to beat The Cooper Island Beach Club. Sitting on the sand under the rustling palm fronds has inspired many a pin striped wage slave to run away from home. “The Cooper Island Dream” is made of peach schnapps, coconut rum, fresh fruit juice and peaceful fantasies of never hearing a phone ring again. Cooper Island has few people living there, 2 rental villas, fabulous diving, poison apple trees and is reputed to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s song “Cheese Burger in Paradise”.  You can only get here by boat or ferry from Road Town, Tortola.

The only thing on Prickly Pear Island in North Sound is the Sand Box. This is another spot where your toes are in the sand, your face is in the glorious sunset over “the dogs” and “Sunset Coolers” are served in goldfish bowls to the sound of sails coming down 50 feet away as beautiful yachts head for evening shelter at the Bitter End Yacht Club on nearby Virgin Gorda. This is one of the world’s most famous sailor’s Mecca’s and the parade of glorious yachts in the evening is well worth the dinghy ride.

Bitter End Yacht Club

Virgin Gorda is on the other side of the channel. The Bitter End is a family run all inclusive fantasy camp for sailors offering over 100 boats of all sizes for the guests to play with.  Guests stay in cottages dotted along the sunset side of the hill, with several restaurants, gift shops, excellent hiking along the ridge and excursions of all types. One of them is to The Baths at the other end of the island. 50’ tall smooth round boulders are jumbled along the point of the island with caves and paths through them and a beach on either end. The Baths is a truly amazing natural formation that no island tour is complete without.

Bali Lo, on Necker Island

Just around the corner from there is glorious Necker Island. On top of the cliffs is one of the most beautiful buildings in the BVI, a Balinese design constructed for the pleasure of about a dozen guests. Staying there is one of the sweetest adventures that I have ever had in these islands. Might be because it came from the imagination of Richard Branson, himself famous for excellent parties, incredible food, beautiful uncontrived surroundings and a luscious joy of life. It is actually difficult to get there as you can’t get a room, you have to rent the whole 57 acre island and it is usually booked by famous people in search of paradise and the outrageously elegant and yet refreshingly simple life offered there. Well, that and the fact that just about anything that a guest can desire will be provided and all secrets will be kept.

Peter Island is a private resort, but much more accessible to visit. At 1800 acres the island offers 20 coves for private exploring with sugary beaches accessed by kayak, windsurfer or sailboat. Tennis, volleyball, diving along with luxurious accommodations and a full service spa are part of your stay.

If you are not interested in a private island, or an island that you share only with other guests, there are still many choices in the BVI. I love Lambert Bay on Tortola. Small cottages are separated from the ocean only by a line of tall elegant palms that are lit at the top at night, two restaurants and a tavern on the sand as well as a swim up bar in the pool make this sunset facing cove pretty complete. You feel alone in the universe as you look out to sea without another building in sight, and yet a 15 minute taxi ride will get you into the heart of the romp and frolic that Tortola has to offer.

The manager told me a wonderful story about an elegant dinner party that they had at one of the beach side restaurants at Lambert Bay. Evidently the guests were very dressed up, and seated along the edge of the open air restaurant facing the sea when the newly installed lights among the palm trees came on. It created a lush dreamy effect high up in the palm fronds just as he hoped. Slowly he began to notice guests bending over from the tables, dozens of them looking at the floor. Evidently this was the full moon night of the turtle hatch, and the babies seeing the brightness in the trees came into the dining area in stead of heading for the moon over the water. The whole party became about scooping up the tiny, minutes old babies and then wading into the water in their evening clothes to release them. Now they are careful not to turn on the lights during the hatch, but it created a legend all over the island about this magical dinner.

Many of the islands are uninhabited, or sparsely populated but almost every one has a place worth putting on a mask and snorkel, and some are even tank for shallow water diving. If this is what you are after find your way to Cooper island Cistern Point or The Devil’s Kitchen at the end of Manchioneel Bay. Sail Caribbean Divers on shore will be glad to outfit you and offer maps and even guides. Next door, Ginger Island has a site that will make you feel as if you left the known planet called Alice in Wonderland, named after the huge colored sea fans that make you feel so small. They can also take you over to Salt Island which is inhabited by one man who still harvests salt the way they did for hundreds of years, and out to the Wreck of the Rhone. Here is a ship that sank in 20-80 feet of water in 1867. The iron ship is now completely covered in choral, although clearly recognizable as a graceful sailing vessel lying on the ocean floor.

Certainly there is good entertainment above the water, in fact the BVI is a fisherman’s paradise. Bone fishing for the guy who likes to match wits with the invisible shallow water speed demons, and Wahoo, Yellow or Black Tuna or even Marlin for those that like to match muscle with the big guys. You really haven’t lived until you have gone after some of these guys with medium to light tackle though! Anagada, way up at the end of the chain is probably most famous for Bonefish, Permit and tarpon caught on a fly rod. Garfield’s Guides will be happy to show you the best spots if you make your way there. And don’t miss the enormous Anagada Lobster, but don’t go after those with a fly rod!

The BVI almost defines paradise and is worth taking your time to wander through. If you want to sail yourself you can do an internet search under “bare boat charters BVI” and find hundreds of places to get boats. Ferries are pretty reliable given an understanding of “island time” and of course you can fly into Tortola or St. Thomas to get them. Bring a sense of adventure and be ready to play. The BVI is kindergarten without the teachers, fun at every turn. With any luck at all we might meet at the golden hour with something icy in our hands and our feet warm in the sand!

Contact Information:
S/Y Arabella http://www.cruisearabella.com/

Jost Van Dyke – Foxy’s & Ivan’s No Stress Bar http://www.b-v-i.com/JostVanDyke/default.htm

Tortola – Bomba Shack, Lambert Bay http://www.bvitourism.com/tortola/beach-bars

Anagada – fishing http://www.bvitourism.com/anegada

Cooper Island – Beach Club http://www.cooper-island.com/

Salt Island http://www.virginislandsmap.com/saltisland/links/about.htm

Beaches of the BVI http://www.bvitourism.com/other-islands/beaches

Virgin Gorda – Bitter End Yacht Club http://www.beyc.com/

The Baths   http://www.b-v-i.com/baths.htm

Necker Island http://www.virgin.com/subsites/necker/

Peter Island http://www.peterisland.com/

Touring the BVI Under Seven Sails

Watching seven sails unfurl along the 156’ deck of Arabella is a romantic image and full of grace. Waves surge under the figurehead on the bow with flowing energy as Arabella offers a guest the luxuries of a sailing vacation without any of the traditional sailor’s chores.

In six days of travel up to three dozen guests visit several islands in the US, British and Spanish Virgin Islands. The week offers an afternoon on the wide white beach at Cooper Island, a visit to the famous Baths at Virgin Gorda, snorkeling inside the caves on Norman Island, a day at the sailor’s paradise of Bitter End Yacht Club, dinner at the Prospect Reef Club on Peter Island, and an evening of dinner and dancing at world famous Foxy’s on Jost Van Dyke. While each day is filled with potential adventure, guests are welcome to stay aboard if reading with the quiet rocking of the yacht is what they are seeking.

Morning begins with the smell of coffee followed by mountains of salmon with capers, onions and cream cheese, or platters full of bacon, sausage and eggs, muffins, and there is always juice, yogurt and fruit available. Lunches generally consists of interesting salads, wraps and warm cookies or brownies. At the perfect hour freshly made baked brie, cheeses, dips and crackers or sushi is set up near the bar in the main saloon and guests warmed by the tropical breezes meet for cocktails. The saloon then became a charming gathering place for diners in groups of two to eight. Fresh fish, salads, outdoor grilled meat and vegetables, or both meat and vegetarian pastas were placed on the two buffets so guests could serve themselves. We had candle lighted dinners ashore under the stars at several islands during the week as well.

After breakfast on most days, guests enjoyed the last cup of coffee and found comfortable spots to chat as the sails unfurled and we set out for a new location. Sailing in the British Virgin Islands is generally line of sight, the longest passages being about 3 hours. 156 feet of deck space means that guests can always find padded places to read, work on a tan, sip iced tea and chat or snooze in sun or shade.

Our cabins were bright and spaces concise without a lot of storage but certainly room for everything we need. Each cabin had its own “head” (shower, sink and toilet), telephone, climate control air, and a small satellite TV as well as several drawers and shelves. Some cabins were bunk rooms, others had double beds. None of us spent much time there as topside was so comfortable and we all seemed to be interested in watching the islands flow by. With the lingering effects of warm water swimming, tropical breezes and salty air the gentle rocking of the yacht at night made sleeping deep and sound.

I have been to the BVI several times before, but I found myself telling our captain Sandy Sunderland that this had been my favorite way to see these islands. He told me that in the summer Arabella does cruises starting out of Newport RI, and going to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Cuttyhunk so I am thinking of joining this beautiful yacht with its friendly crew for that cruise as well.

Each day of the six we were aboard had its own flavor shared with our small group. We made friends that we will see again, put on some weight, danced until we were exhausted, and came home so laid back that I could barely remember how to drive my car. Pretty much the definition of a perfect vacation as I see it.

For more information contact:

Classic Cruises of Newport
Sailing Yacht Arabella

Cabin Charter in the Society Islands, Touring Tahiti, Huanine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora on an 83′ Catamaran at a modest cost.

Our first morning on Tahiti Moorea shined pink across the turquoise lagoon and cobalt sea that separates the two islands. We walked paths through playful exotic flower gardens, graceful palms, and glittering fresh water pools that overflowed into the ocean. We were always aware of the delectable colors of sea and the ever-present roar of the barrier reef protecting the quiet lagoon from it. A buffet covered ten tables under the shade of the palms and allowed for every possibility of breakfast choice. Enormous urns of scented vibrant flowers were integrated with the edibles to create a riot of color, scent and texture that was truly irresistible. Warm breezes played in the blossoms while we sampled the delicacies at the buffet and watched small sailboats and outrigger canoes on the lagoon. 

John and I had crossed the 3875-mile distance from Los Angeles to FAAA airport on Tahiti to board a cabin charter boat called Nemo Polynesia. We would live aboard the 83′ catamaran in our private cabin as we sailed between Tahiti, Huahini, Tahaa, Raiatea, and Bora Bora.  Cabin charter is the middle ground between taking a cruise and chartering a yacht. Like a cruise there is a planned itinerary, meals are all served at one time and the other guests are unfamiliar. Unlike a cruise, there were only 12 of us and we had some flexibility in our schedule. Like a yacht charter, we lived in cabins on a comfortable boat, the food was regional, exotic, and beautifully presented, and we spent leisurely days sailing from island to island. Unlike yacht charter you don’t have the boat to yourself, and that makes cabin charter cost a fraction of the price of a private yacht.

A half-hour flight from Tahiti brought us to the town of Fare on Huahine Nui. The village was filled with the quiet bustle of barefoot activity and the ever-present rumble of the barrier reef. Children and chickens wandered the flower-lined street among the restaurants and shops. The locals are physically beautiful people, so innocent that they meet your eyes like old friends. There are flowers everywhere on these islands and people pluck a blossom from a bush to stick behind their ear as part of strolling down the street. Little brown bodies did flips off the dock into the iridescent water, performing tricks and grinning in delight as they burst to the surface. 

We met Michel, our captain aboard Nemo, when he came to pick us up at the covered bridge dock in Fare. After moving into our cabins and exploring the catamaran, the process of getting to know our fellow travelers began. We all had sailing and exploring new places in the world in common. There were twelve of us on board, but with a boat 83’ long and 30’ wide there was always space for gatherings small or large, and places to read quietly or work on a tan. Our cabins were tight but efficient, each with it’s own entrance and head. Life aboard had a comfortable rhythm as we explored these primordial islands. 

Before we left Huahine we took a land tour with AFO Safari in the afternoon. Afo is a native who gives a tour circumnavigating the twin islands of Huahine Nui (big) and Huahine Iti (small). We saw fresh water blue eyed eels that have been hand fed by the locals in the town of Faie and have been tame for decades. At a small farm we all saw the processes involved in growing the fresh vanilla used in most local recipes. The farmers pollinate the blossoms by hand since there are no native insects for this job. We were taken to the Maeva Bridge, the last remaining site of the local tradition of using fish traps. You build stone walls in the tidal pools, shaped as a “V” which follows the outgoing flow. These stone walls are just higher than the lowest tide. When the tide comes in, the fish do too. When the tide goes out some fish are trapped. The traps were just one more indication of people living in elegant simplicity, enjoying a lifestyle which reveres the harmony of natural forces.

Our first dinner aboard Nemo was a delicious raw fish salad full of chopped raw vegetables and a salty sweet dressing, followed by Polynesian chicken marinated in coconut milk, and lots of wine. For dessert there was a mixed fruit compote with crème fraiche. Fabianne is Michel’s wife and is a very creative cook. She uses what ever is freshest of native produce to create beautiful and tasty feasts day after day from her tiny galley. 

Our first night sky was filled with luminous reds and vibrating purples. The islands make shadows into the bioluminescent water, and look as if they are floating. The new moon in the Southern Hemisphere hangs in the air like a teacup without a handle on a tapestry of spilled sugar. In the morning the water was flat calm and reflected the pink light so evenly that you could not tell where the sea stopped and the sky began. Clouds hung in the rosy air, roosters crowed, fragrant flowers and salt breezes blended to create a sense of being suspended and timeless between sky and ocean. The smell of fresh coffee drifted over the deck as people began to emerge from their cabins. Michel prepared for our first day’s sail, a three-hour run between Huahine and Tahaa. 

I had never seen an atoll before, and did not understand the effect of a barrier reef. What it creates is a lagoon with a clockwise circular current surrounding the volcanic island in the center. Outside the ocean pounds against the barrier, with surf is made up of rolling curls as high as 30′. The luminous turquoise wave shatters into white spray with a continuous roar. There are only a few breaks in the barriers to each island. These are known as “passages” where the boats can pass through. The ride out of the passage at Huahine was calm, just a moderate swell actually. As you go through the passage you can look down the throat of this rolling curl, see the sunlight through it, and imagine what power it must have. There is that ever present sound of the ocean, like an animal roaring in frustration. 

Three hours of peaceful sailing later we entered another passage, the one surrounding Tahaa. Each island has what is clearly a volcanic shape covered in thick jungle. We were able to go ashore on Tahaa for a little shopping in the afternoon. John and I explored the small shops and sandy streets then settled in for a cold local beer at an outdoor café. The leisurely pace and casual style of everyone in the streets gave a feeling of being at the end of the world, pretty much true. Children chatted happily to us in very pristine french as we took in the comfortable life of the village. You would really have to work hard to have a rotten day in an environment such as this.

Back aboard Nemo we headed south around the lagoon to spend the night in the harbor of Point Tuamaru. Our first dinner ashore was at the Marini Iti Restaurant. We were treated to a festival dinner complete with native musicians and dancers. Our stewardess aboard Nemo, Jese, grew up on this island and joined family members in the dances. The dancers were instinctively graceful while music was innately joyous. We wondered about an odd small wire basket with a long handle at each place setting. The answer was that the traditional dinner of Poisson Crue is served rather like fondue. Each table had a large platter of fresh fish cut into chunks and slivers. Vegetables were to be mixed with the fish pieces and quickly seared as the wire basket is dipped into a candle heated pot. The mixture is then eaten hot sprinkled with coconut shavings and delicious fruit sauces. Every basket produces a different mix but the outcome is always crispy, tender and delicious. 

Being the earliest riser among our group, the next morning I spent some time chatting in my rusty french with our captain and his wife. I learned that we were headed to a black pearl farm on Raiatea that day, We would travel inside the lagoon to Motu Tau Tau. Michel and Fabienne told me a bit about the black pearl farms in the region, describing the strings of oysters hanging in the water, the farmers checking on each oyster every day. I could envision the large black irregular shapes clinging to the silver strands twisting in the shining lagoon 30 feet down, quietly making dark pearls. I could picture the strong brown swimmers diving in the clear sunlit water with to tend the current crop.. 

We set out to the west and then north along the lagoon towards Raiatea which over time has come to share a barrier with Tahaa, creating in the end a figure 8 shaped lagoon. Cabin charter offers flexibility of schedule not possible on a cruise ship so Michele took a detour up a large inlet called Baie Hurepiti. He told us that it was a place where we could see the homes of fishermen on the island. The terrain is so steep that it appears like a fjord with palm trees. The houses were all on the beach with a variety of watercraft tied up in front. Dense jungle rose steeply up behind them and I wondered if the only access to these homes was by boat. We saw typical working boats, dozens of outrigger canoes and a few large sailboats along the way. There were swings hanging from the branches of palms, and sandcastles along the shore, bright pareos drying on lines in the breeze and flowering gardens everywhere. All the signs of people who take time to enjoy their lives.

Then back out into the lagoon for the trip to the Motu Pearl Farm. The pearl farm was a casual riot of flowers and shells with gardens everywhere and a lovely beach. Unfortunately we did not get to see the tending of the oysters, but we did see them opened and the pearls removed. Black pearls each shine with a distinctive hue, the colors spanning from gold, to green to purple. A fabulous explanation of the process of growing, tending and harvesting pearls was given to us by our host. This farm had been in his family for eight generations. I couldn’t help noticing what a peaceful and graceful lifestyle these farmers had.

The next day was about exploring the reefs around Raiatea. Many guests wanted to walk on one of the barrier islands so Michel took them across in the raft. John and I preferred to snorkel in the beckoning coral heads that we could see below the surface of water so clear as to make determining depth impossible. There was no loss of light as we dove 35-40′ down to come up with a beautiful conch shell. The natives called it “sept doigts” or “seven fingers”, named for the slender points that extend from the shell. Live ones are protected but since there was nobody home in this one it lives on my desk now as a reminder of peaceful living. 

The following day, we crossed through another passage, this time on the western side of the twin barrier reefs, onto the deep blue for a four hour crossing to Bora Bora. Approaching the island we were silenced by the twin towering pyres, vibrantly green as they jutted into the luscious blue of the sky. There is only one passage into Bora Bora. It is on the western side. The barrier reef had huge rolling aqua waves which traveled as a luminous curl for miles before crashing down. The passage through them was very narrow, and gave a stunning view down the curl. As if internally lit is seems like a gigantic continuous emerald syphon with a frothing white trim on the interior side. Our native stewardess, Jese, did a graceful dance to her traditional music as we sailed through the passage. 

At the village of Viatapea we disembarked for a short shopping trip. John and I wandered the streets and bought presents for our friends at home. As had become our custom, we had a beer at an open café, and watched people go about their lives. Children walked or rode bikes chatting happily among themselves or with us as I tested the boundaries of my improving French. They seemed unconcerned about our language skills and were much more interested in these two blond and blue eyed visitors appreciating their black eyes and tattooed bodies. 

After reboarding Nemo, we set sail to put out a hook for the night. All evening, my eyes kept drifting up to those two huge slabs of rock jutting up into the sky that create the distinctive silhouette of Bora Bora. As the light faded and the boat rocked gently I asked Jesi about the meaning of her dance. She told me that sea travel was full of legends about these island passages. Her reverence for this island was profound and unmistakable as she told me that Bora Bora was such a sacred place that one should never enter the passage without a gift. This dance was hers.

After breakfast, we headed to the Lagoonarium on Motu Tofari. It is a charming small barrier island, which appears to contain only a few small houses for the people who tend the pens used to contain turtles, sharks and tropical fish in shallow water. We were able to swim in the pens for a close up look. The pens were large enough to really travel with the animals, and in a funny way they seemed interested in us too. When we emerged from the fish pens, the owners brought us a huge tray of fresh fruit cut up into finger sized chunks as we rested under the palms. 

When the dinghy came, Michel took us to a place locally known as the coral garden. It is unmarked, simply a turn in the lagoon. We plunged backwards over the side of the dinghy, and by the time we surfaced we were 100 feet from it riding the 5-6 knot current. We held hands, and raced over the coral 2-4 feet below us. The yellow and orange coral heads, black and brown snails, brilliant jewel like fish, and neon colored scallops flashed by for about a mile and a half. Traveling at such speed it was like watching an Imax movie right in front of your nose! This was one of the most sensuous and exhilarating experiences I have ever had. Michel picked us up with the dinghy in the wash where the current slowed, and took us back to the headwaters so we could do it again. It was a stunning show, a truly exotic insight into the life that exists within and under the coral beds.

On one of these races over the coral John began to do lazy somersaults in the fast current. Twisting and rolling weightless in the turquoise water, flying over the brilliant display of color and sparkle from the coral he looked for all the world like one of the ebullient native children. I think each of us recognized that the child within sometimes demands expression in this place of innocence, and we were watching his now. If I had to summarize what French Polynesia had to offer, it would be the reverence for simple pleasures made of water, sunlight and flowers. French Polynesia wraps its friendliness and beauty around you until you view its charms with the uncomplicated eyes of the child within.  


Casual clothing and bathing suits make up most of your wardrobe. Soft luggage is necessary. Currency is the Coeur de Franc Pasifique, but US dollars & credit cards can be used in larger stores and restaurants. Sun block (at least spf15) is important. There is plenty of light, so slower film is preferred.

Travel Information:

Fly into FAAA Airport, Papeete on Tahiti Airlines: Air Caledonie Int, Air France, Air New Zealand, AOM French Airlines, Corsair, Hawaiian Airlines, Lan Chile and Quantas From Tahiti you can get to the other islands by small plane or boat.

Entry Requirements

You can stay for up to a month without a visa, and everyone who is not French needs to have a passport.

Nemo Polynesia – Cabin Charter
Launched: 1995
Length of deck: 83’
Width of deck: 30’
Cabins: 10
Heads: 10
type: Sloop rigged catamaran
Nemo carries masks, snorkels, fins, windsurfer & a kayak

Location of Nemo Polynesia:
Year Round: French Polynesia

Charter Contact:
Richleigh Yachts

Wrong about Cruises

The doors of the cruise ship open and out pours a stream of polyester in loud tacky prints. That had long been my concept of what cruise travel was about.

Ocean going bed platforms on steroids. I had seen them ruin a beautiful day on a Caribbean island, and I was certain that no one could say anything that would make me get on one. But this Radisson 7 Seas Navigator was very small and the sun would be out where it cruised and the snow was three feet deep at the time the subject came up.

My first hint at how wrong I could be came by FedEx. A package arrived containing a fully customized 25 page itinerary handsomely bound with the ship’s name, my name, the dates of the cruise. There was also a leather ticket & passport wallet containing a very specific packet of tickets for excursions, massages and all the pre-planned adventures that we had signed up for. That wallet also contained a leather luggage tag, and several laminated luggage tags with our cabin number on them. “OK, that is impressive organization and a handsome presentation from Radisson” I thought but skeptic that I am, I was sure that the “cattle barge” element would appear eventually.

The following morning it was a short hop by land to the berth of the Seven Seas Navigator. Boarding was my second hint that perhaps our preconceived notions might be in error. Stevedores took our luggage out of the taxi, and the next time we saw our bags they were in our room. While security is evident everywhere, we followed their protocols and boarding was just a walk through. A steward showed us to our suite and that is where we met our butler William!

Our particular seven day itinerary began in Fort Lauderdale, stopped at Progresso, Mexico then on to Cozumel, followed by Georgetown, Grand Cayman and then offered a day in Key West before heading back to where we started. Each shore day had several different excursions to see the area offered, as well as tips about the area, all explained in the newspaper the evening before. There are actually four 7 Seas cruise boats, in different parts of the world and with different itineraries so be sure to check the web site.

In between shore days there were whole days and nights at sea. These were easily filled with time spent in cooking classes, bridge tournaments and lessons, spa treatments, working out in the gym, tea parties, evening cabarets, a casino,  and a whole host of other activities. You could fill every minute of the trip with the offerings and events aboard. I chose to give considerable time to working on my tan with a good book and a seemingly bottomless iced tea.

I have lost my preconceived notion that meals on a cruise ship were reminiscent of a high school cafeteria. There are five choices of where you might decide to have breakfast, three options for lunch including an elaborate poolside buffet with a different theme each day, formal and informal tea, and three possibilities for dinner. I don’t think there is an hour of a day when you can’t order a cocktail. The food was artistically presented in each situation, and in every single case, scrumptious.

After my week aboard the Radisson Seven Seas Navigator I surrendered to being wrong about cruises. We did see much larger boats that had that “teeming masses” style about them, but just as William promised “hour by hour, day by day” we were having a luxurious and pampered experience on our cruise. Coming ashore is a very harsh reality when you have spent a week being so beautifully attended to. There are many things I will miss about life aboard a cruise ship, especially William.


Radisson Seven Seas Cruises
600 Corporate Drive, Suite 410
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33334
(800) 477-7500 toll free