Back in Bequia
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
This afternoon, Star Clippers’ Royal Clipper sailed into what is one of my fondest cruise ports in the Caribbean: the small island paradise that is Bequia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines.
Pronounced beck-way, I was first and last in Bequia five years ago today onboard Silversea’s Silver Spirit, a nimble, 540-guest luxury ship. Bequia isn’t visited by megaliners of any sort; only small luxury, niche and expedition ships can come here – and the graceful Royal Clipper fits into Bequia harbour like a glove.
And yet, I’m unsure how to feel about today. I am flooded with a million emotions because that voyage was the jumpstart of my journalistic career; the moment I transitioned from a casual cruiser to a professional author of cruise journalism. At least, I think it was. I’ve been cruising since 1998, and going full-tilt on the ocean since 2005.
In contrast to the rest of my reports, which are written late at night, I’m writing this a little before four in the afternoon. I’m sitting outside, in the deserted Tropical Bar. The rest of the guests have gone ashore. I have the ship to myself and, briefly, she is mine.
The wind is blowing in my face, and I’m watching the sailboats come in and anchor for a few hours at a time – no doubt so their passengers can avail themselves of a cold local brew. If you’re independently wealthy, you sail into Bequia. If you’re keeping up appearances, you sail into St. Thomas.
The sun is shining brightly, illuminating the harbour in light that is gradually taking on more of an amber hue. It’s difficult to imagine that it’s just nine days until Christmas; the weather is so fine here compared to most of North America that it could be a sunny summer’s evening.
Royal Clipper is pitching beautifully up and down, ever so slightly. If I focus on the horizon, I can see her bow dip and rise softly, like a human breathing. Royal Clipper feels alive, somehow. Sailors – always a superstitious bunch at the best of times – believe that each ship has a soul as distinctive and unique as our own; I tend to subscribe to that theory, too.
I’m debating not going ashore to Bequia. I love this little island, yet I’m worried my five year old memories – so pleasant and jealously guarded in my mind’s eye – will interfere with what certainly has to be a changed reality.
Tick, tick, tick. Time is running out. The tender from shore motors up alongside us. I can hear its diesel engine belching noisily, followed by the miscellaneous shouts of the crew as they tie her up and let the guests come back onboard. Tick, tick, tick. On a ship, time is always running out. One way or another.
In the end, I never did go ashore. I sat on my perch on Royal Clipper, ordered another €4.50 Drink of the Day, and just watched the horizon bob up and down ever so slightly. I enjoyed these few minutes alone with myself, my thoughts, and my ship. My memories of wandering through town, grabbing a cold drink, meeting a couple from Edmonton, Alberta, and getting disastrously sunburned on the beach – will remain intact in my mind. And I’m okay with that.
I don’t do this because some editor tells me, take a cruise on the Royal Clipper. And I certainly don’t do it for the money; just ask my accountant. I do this because I love ships. I mean, I really love ships. They’re graceful and elegant. They speak to a different time; a time when trade, travel, and exploration were intrinsically tied with the sea. Air travel didn’t exist. The automobile didn’t exist. But ships existed – and have existed, in their various forms – for thousands of years.
That’s why I am enjoying my first experience with Star Clippers, and what their CEO and founder Mikael Krafft is trying to do with the company. He’s not just providing a few hundred people a week with a cruise vacation; he’s preserving the past, bringing the beauty of sail alive once again for a new generation.
A generation, like mine, that would otherwise never know this kind of peaceful respite.