Shelby Nicholson of Nicholson Yacht Charters Shares Memories of Solo Walking Trips During an Extended Caribbean Cruise….
I recently read a good time letter from clients who had a wonderful time, cruising the Virgin Islands aboard the Leopard 45’ catamaran, TWO IF BY SEA. They mentioned that they really relaxed and didn’t do much – just enjoyed the meals, sailed a bit, went for a swim, paddle boarded, walked ashore, enjoyed movies in the cockpit, scuba dived, and it struck me that given the age I am now – 58 and cerebral – I would want to do the same thing. I really enjoy reading, writing, and working, and I would want to do that on vacation too.
But there was a time in my life when all I would ever want to do on a yacht charter is windsurf all day. Every day back and forth between Peter Island and Sir Francis Drake Channel, sailing with all my windsurfing buddies to my hearts content! There was also a time in the 70s when I was in elementary school, I spent a summer snorkeling Horseshoe Reef, an extension of Anegada, with other students. We anchored in flat calm water out of sight of land for the month of July, sipping Grand Marnier with the captain and eating fresh baked bread and fresh-caught grouper, while our captain David Higgins led us on snorkeling trips twice a day – intensive snorkeling…. We’d snorkel in the morning, come back for lunch, then go out again in the afternoon, and we never tired of it!
But it is the memories of my solo walking trips while cruising the Caribbean that I want to talk about here.. During my late thirties, I took some time off from work to sail with a friend to the Caribbean for a year. We left Massachusetts in the fall and sailed to Bermuda, then headed down to Antigua and Guadeloupe, then south to the Grenadines, then back up to the Virgin Islands, and it is my solo walking trips that bring back warm memories today….
Maybe I love to walk, because my grandmother in Antigua where I grew up was a big walker. She didn’t drive; so she used to walk to church, walk to the Dockyard, walk to visit the people in the village. Possibly I picked up my love for walking from her. Our family in Antigua did a lot of cruising in the Caribbean during the Sixties when we lived there, and one of the things we used to do while cruising was explore ashore. We would charter a yacht in the Grenadines and sail from island to island, exploring ashore as soon as we got to a new island. Our captain couldn’t lower the dinghy fast enough before we’d get into it and go. In fact, my sister Libby Nicholson fell overboard one time, getting into the dinghy, so excited was she! We loved the culture of the islands, the houses, the architecture, the people, the bays, the color of the water, the shops, the local market, the lay of the land. So it’s not surprising thirty years later that I should be equally curious to see whatever might be ashore, and the way to see it in my mind, given that you don’t have a car when cruising, was to walk.
In Bermuda somehow I managed to find an amazing carriage trail that led over the land all the way from St. Georges to Hamilton, the full length of the island that had amazing views of the entire western side of the island. Bermuda is long and narrow, and the Western side of the island is protected by a long reef, inside of which is a blue lagoon. You can see the edge of the reef way out in the distance, with the Atlantic swell breaking over it, navy blue outside, turquoise green inside, just spectacular! But what was most amazing was the tundra-like flora that my path took me through. Wide, flat, even, blue-chipped, the path was an old train track that wrapped around the coast, high on a bluff, overlooking the sea on one side, and the flat, treeless land on the other, so you could see for miles! Wild flowers lapped at my feet. Not another soul was on the path; there was no civilization. I breathed the air in like oxygen and walked for miles, loving it!
We spent Christmas day that year in Guadeloupe, and it couldn’t have been a more different way to celebrate Christmas than what was on offer in Antigua. During the early Seventies, my sister Libby Nicholson started a tradition in Nelson’s Dockyard of throwing a champagne party for visiting yachtsmen around the capstans. They fill dinghies with ice and dig cases of champagne bottles into the ice and sell them at cost to each person that cares to partake in the party. The idea was that people living on the yachts were far from home; on Christmas Day they would need to feel welcome. So the tradition was born, and so it continues to this day. So while Antigua’s Christmas Day atmosphere is a party, Guadeloupe’s Christmas Day, at least in Des Hayes Bay, is like any other day of the year, but what a place it is to discover on foot! There is a lot of traffic, but it still is only a small country road, and Guadeloupe has herds of long horn cattle and many oxen that Antigua doesn’t have. It felt like a visit to India to see the beautiful long horns grazing in the meadow along the side of the road.
My walking tour of Martinique is quite another story. The yacht I was on picked up a charter in the Grenadines that was to have a captain aboard only, so I had to get off. Somehow I found myself in Martinique needing a place to stay but the idea was that I was going to take the banana boat from Martinique to Grenada and island-hop my way to Grenada to rejoin the yacht. So off I started walking aimlessly down the road in Martinique… I had a few days to spare. Maybe I had a plan, maybe not. The idea was to get to St. Anne by the Sea in order to find a campground that rented tents and sleep on the beach. But I wasn’t into taking any taxis. No, I was going to walk. And I had no idea the distances. I just took off. And it turned out alright. There was no traffic; nobody bothered me; I found where I needed to go; it only took three hours; the campground rented me a tent; I slept on the beach perfectly safely around other campers, and I had a wonderful time! I didn’t however take the banana boat to Grenada. I flew, but once again in Grenada, I walked all the way from St. Georges to Secret Harbor, and when I arrived at the boat, my friend asked me, ‘What took you?’ “I walked,” I said, not knowing how long it would take or where I was going….
I have similar memories of taking off on long walking tours on Tortola. Up over the mountain I went, where I was asked by a toothless local whether I would marry him. That’s when I turned back. It’s a good idea to stay on the beaten path, even in Tortola.