Caribbean Treasure Islands Sailing Cruise on Star Clipper
Travel under sail between unspoilt islands on Star Clipper, in the footsteps of the pirates of the Caribbean. This is our diary of a Treasure Islands sailing cruise.
This was our fourth Star Clippers cruise. The others were in the Mediterranean, and this time it was the Caribbean at Christmas-time. We were looking forward to warm sunny days, superb sailing conditions, and particularly the British Virgin Islands, famous for links to the real pirates, idyllic scenery and a laid-beck style. We were not disappointed.
Our Treasure Islands cruise on Star Clipper started in St Maarten, the Dutch side of the island shared with the French St Martin. We chose to fly via Paris, taking the daily Air France A340 direct to St Maarten. The landing there is subject of many videos on YouTube as the plane heads in just over the beach at the end of the runway!
A short taxi ride from the aiport and we were at the St Maarten cruise terminal in Phillipsburg. We could soon see the masts of Star Clipper amongst the large cruise liners – 170 passengers compared with about 8,000 on the other ships! After a welcome Caribbean punch and a snack we explored our cabin before going up on deck to enjoy the last rays of the day’s sun.
Lifeboat drill preceded dinner – well up to the Star Clippers standard, before going back on deck for the sailaway. Unlike other ships, Star Clipper actually sailed away, the crew hoisting the sails accompanied by the Star Clippers theme music by Vangelis. Once out of port we sailed silently through the moonlit seas, the stars shining in the darkness, the only noise coming from the bow cutting through the water – authentic tall ship sailing at its best.
Our first call was Anguilla, a British overseas territory, reputed to have the best beaches in the Caribbean. The Star Clippers sports team were active here, taking the ship’s sailing dinghies and swim gear ashore to the sandy beach a short stroll from the atmospheric small village. The beach bar featured a live jazz band, and was decorated with pictures of famous jazz players. A very congenial stop for the less-energetic!
Overnight we headed north to the British Virgin Islands, and passing Sir Richard Branson’s private island of Neckar we sailed in to Virgin Gorda, mooring opposite Prickly Pear beach a short distance from the Bitter End yacht marina. We chose an excursion to the famous Baths of Virgin Gorda, massive boulders strewn across a sandy beach and the nearby land. The scenic drive to the Baths took us up and down steep hills with superb views over Virgin Gorda and the BVI. We did not return directly to the ship, the tender instead taking us to Prickly Pear beach where the ship’s chefs and waiters organised a superb lunchtime beach barbecue. There was time to visit the marina complex at Bitter End before returning to Star Clipper.
The next day featured sailing down the Sir Francis Drake channel through the heart of the BVI. We called at Norman Island, reputedly the pirate headquarters and home to a lost stash of buried treasure, and allegedly the inspiration for the book Treasure Island, before sailing past Tortola and its capital Road Town to the famous yachting harbour of Soper’s Hole on the north west coast. Arriving there at dusk, we tendered ashore after dinner to explore the marina, shops and attractions of Sopers’s Hole.
Next morning we set sail for Jost van Dyke, the laid-back ‘barefoot’ island. Here was a ‘wet landing’ from the tender, steeping ashore on the beach in ankle-deep water with a helping hand from the sports team. This idyllic setting is home to the ‘Soggy Dollar Bar’ whose ‘Painkiller’ rum cocktail is justly famous! Probably our favourite location, we spent a happy few hours here soaking up the sun, dabbling in the warm seawater, and soaking up the occasional Painkiller.
Leaving the small islands of the BVI behind, we headed south overnight to St Kitts, a typical Caribbean island with a central cloud covered rainforested peak. There are still traces of its British colonial past, and its town centre clock-roundabout is allegedly modelled on Piccadilly Circus – although rather smaller. The island is visited by large cruise ships, and there are pierside shopping malls designed for their day-trippers.
Our final call was at St Barts, in the French West Indies. We were aware it was frequented by the rich and famous, but nothing prepared us for the massed yachts outside and inside the harbour – those outside too big for the harbour, and topped by Eclipse, one of Roman Abramovich’s yachts, with its two helicopters, and allegedly an anti-missile shield and mini-sub escape vehicle. St Barts itself was an interesting mixture of traditional French Caribbean influences and designer brand shops catering for the luxury market.
The last evening brought the traditional waiter’s parade before sailing at 10pm from St Barts past the rows of luxury yachts.
Our arrival in St Maarten the next morning found us surrounded by ranks of cruise ships – all too big for most of the islands we had visited.
We agreed this was our favourite Star Clippers cruise, and certainly the most relaxing and with the best sailing. It was definitely a recommended way to visit the Caribbean!