Once upon a time, cruising the high seas wasn’t about balcony suites and after-dinner theatre. It was about great wooden ships riding the waves under full sail, navigating by the stars to reach some exotic port halfway across the world. I’ve always been fascinated by the days of sail, and a few years ago, I got to experience them for myself — at least a little.
One day, out of the blue, an editor asked if I’d be interested in sailing the Caribbean on an old-time sailing ship and writing about it. I thought about it — for about a second — before signing on for what would be one of my most remarkable trips. The ship was the Caledonia, a recreation of an 19th-century barquentine, with a full set of sails and an enthusiastic crew of young Canadians. And a few weeks later I was standing on its deck as we sailed out of Guadeloupe for a memorable voyage around the French Caribbean.
We sailed into places few other cruises go, like Pigeon Island and Les Isles des Saintes, went snorkelling on deserted beaches, even had a shore dinner in the dark lagoon where they filmed a scene from one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. And one evening, as we walked back to the ship, I looked out see the Caledonia moored off shore, as the sun set behind it. With the masts swaying in the breeze and the dying sun smouldering behind the clouds, it painted a picture that transported me back to the days of Blackbeard and Captain Cook.
The company that ran the cruise has long since gone out of business, and the Caledonia now sits at a dock on the Toronto waterfront, waiting for a new life. But for a short time, it was a time machine, taking a few lucky passengers back to the romantic days of sail. And so what if the airline lost my luggage and I spent the week sailing the Caribbean in one pair of shorts and a couple of t-shirts? What are time travellers supposed to wear, anyway?