On our ToaD Fantasy sailing, a small group of us decided to go sailing and snorkeling to St. John. We wanted to make this a private event so I checked with a number of different providers, finally setting on Sail with Captain Max. Right from the start we felt very comfortable with Captain Max. She answered all of my questions. I am always concerned about doing an independent excursion on a cruise because there are so many variables – will we get in to port, will we be on time, can we enjoy ourselves and still make it back before the cruise sails away? All legitimate questions. Max assured us that if we didn’t make it in, we wouldn’t be charged. We exchanged cell phone numbers so we could advise her of any issues at the last minute. She said we could arrange the same taxi driver to take us back. That works!
Here is Captain Max
And here is Lou
We arrived at the dock and our taxi driver, Henry, asked us if we wanted a return trip. We arranged for him to pick us up at 2:00 pm since I needed to be back onboard for a 3:30 pm meeting. We waiting just a few minutes before Max joined us. We signed our releases and she whisked us away, three by three, in the dingy out to Lou. Once onboard, we met Emma, Captain Max’s first mate.
We then found our spots on the boat and prepared to set sail! We had a nice sail across the Pillsbury Sound to St. John. I even spotted a rainbow around the sun (sun dog).
We enjoyed the ride over, some of us on the bow of the ship, some in back. We all managed to get some sun!
We reached Caneel Bay and tied off so we could snorkel. Emma and Max helped us find equipment that worked for us. We noticed that their snorkel gear was much better than most shore excursions we have been on (we usually bring our own for that reason. Once fitted, we got in the water and waited for everyone else. In general, we snorkeled as a group, but we were told where we were going, in case we wanted to go ahead on our own. The reef we were snorkeling on was destroyed by a hurricane a few years back. It is really coming back nicely!
After snorkeling we were able to have some rum punch while waiting for lunch. Lunch was poached chicken, an orzo salad and fresh fruit and cheese with a whole grain bread. Cookies were available for dessert. What was impressive was that Captain Max made all the food herself each day. It was fantastic! Additionally, she used fresh bougainvillaea and seagrape leaves to decorate our plates. Very classy.
After lunch, we enjoyed a last swim. On most full day trips, you would go to a second snorkel site. We did not as we had to return early so we got to swim instead. Once we were all onboard, we enjoyed a leisurely sail back to St. Thomas. When we arrived, we noticed our taxi driver Henry waiting for us. We were right on time and he was a bit early for us. Three by three we made our way back to the dock and said goodbye to Captain Max and Emma.
What impressed me about how well this excursion is operated was that a week after we returned home, Captain Max sent me an email, asking how the rest of our cruise was in light of Hurricane Sandy. We all felt like we made some new friends that day.
One of our cruisers, Louise, prepared a review of the excursion and has allowed me to share that with you.
Captain Max met our group at the appointed time and pier. She would be what I would describe as an “old salt” in the best of ways- very knowledgeable about sailing and the ways of the ocean and tides. During the intros you could tell she was sizing us up. She had very good reason to do so. Several of us were “not athletic.” She had to figure out who had to sit where in order to safely load us for the very short dingy ride to board the sailboat. During that time she took the time to learn if any of us were familiar at all with any sort of floating vessel. We ranged as greatly in our boat knowledge as much as we ranged in our athletic ability. But she made us all comfortable transferring from the dock, to the dingy and onto the sailboat.
The first priority on the boat was to go over safety features and how to safely navigate around the boat while we were at sea. Max had one quite capable deck hand, Emma. Both of them set about getting us comfortably seated and settled in for the ride. Emma was quick to help with the mooring lines, the mast, sail and other assorted boat lines and anything else Max needed. Max was very helpful picking out the right sized snorkel gear for each of us. Emma was our guide and showed us where to look for sea creatures during our snorkel time. Afterward, she helped us identify some of the fish we saw while snorkeling.
Emma set up lunch for us and kept the rum punch flowing. Lunch was plentiful, healthy and beautiful. We had a large platter of fresh fruits, cheese and flavorful steamed boneless chicken breast. Those were rounded out by a rice pilaf and bread that had to have been baked in heaven. What made lunch so beautiful was the fact they used sprigs of bougainvillea flowers around the platter and our plates were lined with sea grape leaves. Although we were floating in the ocean, the presentation of the food made it feel as though we were dining at an upscale island diner.
Captain Max and Emma were both interesting to talk to and interesting people to learn from. They worked wonderfully together to create for us a perfect sailboat excursion. We were able to completely relax and enjoy the tropical breezes and fresh salt air. In fact one person in the group got extremely relaxed from those delicious rum punches. Even then, Captain Max was able to get everyone back onshore safe and sound. Nothing seemed rushed or out of sorts even though the winds of Hurricane Sandy were beginning to stir.
The taxi/ bus ride to get to and from the pier reminded me of a ride in Disneyland called “The Matterhorn” because it had breathtaking views peeping out of the very steep hills and valleys we had to navigate to get to the pier. Two questions are always asked regarding shore excursions, “Would you do it again?” and “Was it worth it?” In my opinion, the answer to both is a resounding yes. I enjoy boat excursions with snorkeling. As scuba diving is no longer an option for me, I want to see creatures I rarely get the opportunity to do so.