This tale began when Matthew called to say that he wanted to charter Sagitta and get married on board. He told me that as a young boy, he dreamt of majestic sailing ships.
He was decisive, sure of himself, asked all the right questions. “Can the ceremony be held at sunset by the Pitons in St. Lucia”? It was apparent that Matthew had thought about every detail.
The more he asked, the more questions swirled around in my own head. Who was this unusual man, who pursued his childhood dreams of a romantic wedding at sea? And better yet, who was the Zen bride willing to relinquish the planning of one of her most important days to her husband? I would never know. Because true to his word, he was the only person we ever spoke to.
Fast forward to August 2015, and Matthew in his tuxedo and wingtip oxfords…his best man and Captain Patricio casually dressed, bare feet on the deck. Behind them lie the rolling peaks and valleys of the Pitons. The bride emerges in a beautiful beaded gown, a fairy-tale princess.
They exchange vows, and whisper “I do”. And then the universe chimes in and casts its magic spell of approval. There are visits from dolphins and a little sun shower, both signs of luck on a wedding day, followed by a rainbow of hope and harmony. They kiss.
From California to Panama, St Vincent to Grenada, and finally to her new home port of St Lucia, Vela is finally cruising. As with most projects, time ran short at the end, and things got a little crazy.
The shakedown cruise on December 20 saw Vela setting sail minus some paint and trim, missing some accessories like towel rails and mirrors, and with a tired and frazzled crew. The recently installed AC units proved to be noisy and leaky in some cases, but definitely cold! Most of our shakedown guests took everything in stride, with patience and good humor. The crew is still working continuously to finish up loose ends, and the ship is looking better every day.
All that said, Vela is every bit the beautiful, sleek sailing ship that we knew she was when we brought her into the fleet. Today, sailing on a beautiful morning from St Vincent to Tobago Cays, she made 4-5 knots with engine off and sails up. How could it get any better than that?
Happy New Year!
The first time I heard her say “no guts, no glory,” I knew this was a woman who could make things happen leaving naysayers in her wake.
When you first meet her, you notice her movie star smile. Her sparkly green eyes are the perfect shade of sea green. Hard to tell because she’s always smiling or laughing so they’re in a perpetual state of twinkly squint. When she’s cross, those same green eyes turn to the color of the briny deep. Thankfully, she’s not one to dwell. She makes her point and moves on, because women like Liz have mountains to climb, oceans to cross, and no time to waste.
Today is Liz’s birthday, and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate her day, than to thank her for her leadership, her loyalty, her support, and her fearlessness. Without her, Island Windjammers wouldn’t be. Running a boutique cruise line is no easy feat. But thanks to her dedication, direction, and at times sleepless nights, we can offer unforgettable sailing vacations, on the best little ships in the Caribbean.
We love you Liz, and we hope that you take a little time off today to celebrate you!
From your Island Windjammers Team
December is just a few short weeks away (have you started your Christmas shopping? Me neither). In no time at all, Vela will be stretching her canvas for IWJ guests for the very first time.
Months of intensely hard work have passed quickly, with a lot of laughs, the occasional disagreement, steaming hot weather, pouring rain, new faces joining the work team, supplies piling high around the ship, and a constant atmosphere of BUSY!
Vela is now docked at Clarkes Court Boatyard and Marina in St George’s, Grenada. This relatively new shipyard has been wonderful. The staff is professional, friendly, and always accommodating. The facility itself is clean, cheerful, and well equipped.
How many workers does it take to refit a 155’ schooner in one year? A LOT. First of all, on the US side, our admin team (Janine, Shannon, Kathy, Donna, and Nancy) has expanded our reservations system to add Vela, as well as marketed and advertised to fill her, and hired crew to work on her both for the refit and when she sails.
Captain Nervo, who sailed Vela from Long Beach, California all the way to Grenada, with lengthy work stops in both Panama and St Vincent, heads up the on-site team. Captain Nervo has coordinated the entire refit and oversees approximately 30 workers and support staff. He doesn’t just supervise, though—his hands are as dirty as everyone else’s are at the end of the day. Engineer John has installed the new main engine, moved and replaced generators, built water makers and a sewage treatment plant, and carried out many more complex engineering projects. Construction foreman Mike has drawn and revised building plans countless times, researched and purchased the best materials to meet all modern safety specifications, and monitors on-site work progress daily.
Eight workers have been on board Vela for almost a year now: welders Richard, Johnie, and Alberto; handymen Omar, Sergio, and Ermel; carpenter Roberto; and fiberglass specialist Angel. Their dedication to the project has been inspiring.
The cabin construction team (or the Ninjas, as foreman Mike calls them) joined Vela in St Vincent several months ago. Not only are Keith, Laurence, Sam, and Dexter hard workers, but they are extremely good at what they do. They’ve offered a lot of creative input, and added touches that make Vela truly unique and special.
Shore support in Grenada is a particularly demanding role, consisting of running endless errands for the ship, ferrying crew back and forth from the airport, searching for parts and supplies, receiving and tracking monster shipments of construction materials, and making hundreds of phone calls—among many other things. Monja, Neil, and Thomas have done a phenomenal job of this. Also playing important roles in Grenada are Zeke, Craig, and Steve, all skilled carpenters, and Crystal, who helps out with anything from payroll to stenciling life jackets. Cooks Lyndon, Lenny, Dextroy, and Philbert have taken rotations providing three squares daily for the workers.
The question is asked daily, if not more often: “Will Vela be ready on time for her first sail?”. Why, yes…yes, she will. See you on board!
People who love to eat are always the best people. Julia Child
Twenty four passengers eagerly waited on the dock for dinghy transport to Sagitta for our first Taste of the Islands foodie cruise. A group of beloved past sailors, and future beloved sailors, were looking forward to a week of local culinary excitement! (oh yeah, and some sailing, snorkeling, sight seeing, dancing, rope swinging, rum punches – you know, the “usual”) Our chefs are amazing, and we are lucky to have them, so this was their time to strut their stuff. Head chef Lenny is from Nevis, and has spent many years honing his craft at sea, as well as at some of the finest restaurants on the little island that is his home. Lenny is larger than life, super friendly and has no “indoor voice” (I can relate). Sous chef George is Grenadian, and has worked at sea and in famous restaurants on his spice island. George is quiet, but be on the lookout for his huge smile.
On our first morning in Carriacou, Lenny and George put out a beautiful display of local vegetables and fruit. Lenny animatedly described all the colorful treats, while George sliced and diced and had us try local mangos, soursop, coconut water, and more! Afterward, Lenny the Pied Piper led everyone into town to check out the local markets and rum shops.
The week was filled with creative Caribbean breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners. Some crowd favorites were lobster eggs Benedict (with a local twist), saltfish, dhal and rice, and coconut Shrimp and cornmeal with okra. And don’t forget the desserts – anyone for some coconut cream pie or mango creme brûlée?
The week was capped off with a huge Caribbean buffet. The sumptuous array included spiny lobster tails, fish, fruits, salads, vegetables, dessert, all prepared to perfection with local ingredients and seasonings.
Lenny and George did a fantastic job of our first ever food cruise and we are already plotting and planning ways to make it even more fabulous next year. YUM.
Chief food taster Leah
Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates~Mark Twain
They looked like trouble on arrival. Twenty three pirates for the week. Some brought the clothes–ALL came with the attitude. I wondered “where will all the rum go?” and made sure that our supplies were sufficient. It was going to be a good week!
On that first night, only a couple of rum survivors made it to the Lambi Queen in Carriacou to hear the drumming. Little did I know that the rest of them were just gearing up for Chatham Bay the next day. Once there, some commandeered the “relaxation station” floating lounger, and demanded that libations be delivered to them via dropped down cooler. Others snorkeled, and harassed locals and baby goats at the Bushman’s Farm at the top of the hill. Captain Patricio broke out the rope swing. Soon there were pirates flying through the air, and even a few back flips from the gangway.
Chicanery was clearly brewing for the night. We all dressed in our best pirate finery, and both Diamant and Sagitta headed to the Boll Head Bar for a BIG bonfire. Money was won and lost over Barney’s infamous crab races. All of our pirate hearts melted a little when we looked to the night sky, and saw the spectacular show of stars lighting our dinghy ride home to Sagitta.
Tobago Cays was a spectacular day of swimming with turtles, paddle boarding and lolling about on the beach, followed by build-your-own-cocktail with St Lucia Coconut Rum and all the fixings. By nightfall, we were running amok on the Mayreau cultural tour, drinking and dancing our way up the hill, and rolling our way back down!
Yesterday was Bequia. Stark fear showed on the faces of locals when they saw that both ships were in town, but our pirates showed their gentle sides as they experienced the Turtle Sanctuary, and took in all the sights of this perfect little island.
Later, Diamant plunderers boarded Sagitta for a takeover. The attempt was foiled by the buccaneers of Sagitta, courageously brandishing bottles of Jack Iron rum. A beautiful sail back to Mayreau, and this morning all are enjoying Salt Whistle Bay. I don’t know what
the rest of this trip may bring, but these pirates, both young and young at heart, are sure to keep me running. Time to slap on another pirate tattoo, don my wench costume and join in the fray…
Leah, Salty Wench of Sagitta
After transiting the Panama canal, Vela paused briefly to prepare for the ocean journey to
The 1600 nautical mile trip from Colòn to St. Vincent took eleven [blessedly uneventful] days. Vela is a true ocean going vessel, and loved stretching her sails in the wind. She arrived in St Vincent at the end of May, and took up residence in the St Vincent Shipyard.
By this time, a full team of welders and carpenters was assembled and ready to get seriously to work. A somewhat neglected building in the shipyard was cleaned out and converted into bunkhouse style accommodations.
The most budget-friendly bunk beds available to be sent to St Vincent were “Stork Craft” brand. After opening the cartons, the guys were relieved to find out that they wouldn’t have to sleep in cribs! A resourceful carpenter built kitchen shelves and counters out of old pallets, and the stove and refrigerator were hauled off the ship and into the new kitchen. The “Hotel California”, as it was soon known, was ready to feed and house the workers.
St Vincent presented a new set of challenges. With no car and dozens of errands needing to be run daily, a blessing by the name of Jimmy Grecia came to our aid. Jimmy and his dad own and operate Charlie Tango Taxi . Jimmy can do it all, from giving an amazing island tour or boat tour, to renting out guesthouse accommodations and vehicles. Jimmy has been IWJ’s connection to everyone and everything in St Vincent. Need groceries, parts, fuel, a yacht mooring, the best street food on the island, a party organized, a ride somewhere, or even a phone card top-up? Call Jimmy—he will get it done!
During the three months that Vela has been in St Vincent, she has undergone some exciting changes. Her fore and aft deckhouses were removed to allow a 15 foot expansion of the main saloon. This roomy indoor area will have ample space for 30 guests to dine, dance, and hang out. In addition to table seating, a very cool bar is being built around the main mast. All guest cabins are framed and being built out.
In early July, Vela was dry docked for ten days. An extensive hull inspection proved her to be every bit as strong and seaworthy as we already knew she was. Her hull was sandblasted and painted. Propulsion and steering assemblies were inspected and given routine maintenance.
Vela’s brand new John Deere main engine is almost ready to be started for the first time this weekend. After a sea trial to ensure that everything is working as it should, the engine will be broken in on a short repositioning cruise to Grenada. Once there, Vela will be docked at the Clarkes Court Boatyard and Marina for the final three months of her refit.
Next stop, Grenada!
After closing on the sale of Vela in Long Beach, California in November 2014, Captain Nervo and his crew embarked on the 3000 nautical mile sail to Panama. After a mostly calm and uneventful trip, with the exception of one wild day off the coast of Costa Rica (pictured), Vela arrived at Flamenco Marina in Amador, Panama. Here she spent several months at anchor while the conversion project began.
Being at anchor posed some logistical problems. As the ship was about a half mile from shore, a long dinghy ride was necessary to bring provisions, equipment, and even fuel and water on board. Fuel and water were carried in the dinghy (or panga, as they are called in Spanish) in a portable tank in small amounts. Sheets of steel and welding tanks were carried the same way. This was backbreaking and sometimes tedious work, but our wonderful mostly-Ecuadorian crew uncomplainingly did everything that needed to be done.
Almost the entire interior of the vessel had to be torn out in preparation for the construction of guest cabins later on. This produced a mountain of wood, scrap metal, and various other bits of flotsam and jetsam! Much of what was removed was moved on to a nearby trawler.
In May, the decision was made to take Vela through the Panama Canal and on to the Caribbean, so that the crossing could be completed before hurricane season. After transiting the Panama Canal, it took about 9 days for Vela to reach St Vincent Shipyard, where she would be berthed for the next few months.
To be continued….
All three of our ships have colorful histories. Read on, to find out where they came from, where they’ve been, and why we love them all!
Diamant, our baby and the original vessel in the Island Windjammers fleet, was built in the Fong Kuo Shipyard in Taiwan in 1978. She was privately owned in her earlier years, some of them in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area.
Quasar Nautica, a tour company in the Galapagos Islands, bought Diamant in the mid 1980’s. Angermeyer Cruises, another well-known Galapagos tour operator, acquired Diamant around 2000. All told, Diamant sailed adventurous passengers around the Galapagos for two decades.
Angermeyer Cruises removed Diamant from service in 2007 following the acquisition of another vessel. In 2008, partners seeking to start a new sailing company in the Caribbean took possession of Diamant. The ship underwent improvements and refurbishment, and was moved to Grenada in early 2009. When the young company was unable to continue operations several months later, Island Windjammers purchased Diamant. Her thrilling first cruise as an Island Windjammers ship was in November 2009 out of Grenada. Diamant has been cruising the beautiful Windward Islands ever since, and is a beloved favorite of IWJ guests. She is scheduled to undergo a complete refit in 2016, which will include the addition of a luxurious Owners’ Suite.
Sagitta was bought by Island Windjammers in 2012, and has a particularly interesting background. Built in Sweden by Falkenberg from 1960-1961, she was originally intended to be a civilian steel trawler. At some point, the plan changed. HMS Sigrun, as Sagitta was formerly known, was delivered to the Swedish Navy in 1961. Her unglamorous but necessary function was as a support vessel to the coastal fleet—specifically, she was a laundry ship. Every navy man needs clean uniforms, and Sigrun made that happen for many years!
After being retired from naval service, Sigrun went to a private owner in Holland. She sat unused for several years, and was about to be scrapped when Angermeyer Cruises purchased her in 1996. Angermeyer changed her name to Sagitta, after the “little arrow” constellation. She sailed from Holland all the way to the Galapagos, where she underwent a four-year transformation from a very utilitarian power vessel to a majestic three-masted motorsailer. Sagitta cruised the Galapagos Islands from 2000-2012, when she became the second ship in the Island Windjammers fleet. After some upgrades and improvements, Sagitta began service out of St Maarten in December 2012. St Maarten remains Sagitta’s homeport. Sagitta also spends time in the British Virgin Islands, St Lucia, and Grenada.
Although not a “true” sailing vessel, Sagitta’s beamy hull configuration gives her the most spacious cabins and largest open deck area of all three IWJ ships. With towering masts and her sails flying, Sagitta is a beautiful and impressive sight.
Vela, formerly Tole Mour, is the newest and mightiest jewel in the IWJ crown. Tole Mour was commissioned by the Marimed Foundation in Hawaii as a health support vessel in the Marshall Islands. Her original name means “Gift of Life and Health” in Marshallese. She was built by Nichols Brothers boat builders in Puget Sound, Washington, in 1988, and provided medical services to Pacific islanders for several years.
In recent years, Tole Mour was part of the Guided Discoveries’ Catalina Island Marine Institute, offering sail training, oceanography, and marine biology education to school-aged students.
It was love at first sight when Island Windjammers’ fleet captain and fleet engineer went to inspect Tole Mour in Long Beach, California in early 2014. In November 2014, Tole Mour joined the IWJ fleet and was rechristened Vela, after “the sail” constellation. Vela is currently undergoing a complete conversion from dormitory style accommodations to comfortable, beautifully appointed single and double cabins. All have private baths with the exception of the two “solo sailor” cabins, which share a bath. Vela’s primary homeport will be Marigot Bay, St Lucia.
Vela. Her name means “sail”. She’s a vision…gleaming brass, oiled teak decks, and tall masts that appear to touch the sky. One look and your heart flutters. Your senses come alive. You can smell the salt air…hear the whisper of the wind as it unfurls the miles of canvas…her beauty is set in motion. She sails.