updated 6/14/2005 4:06:51 PM ET 2005-06-14T20:06:51

Why V.I.? For any reason, whether it is business, or a land vacation, the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean offer a surreal scenic canvas and there are activities galore. This trip was my son Todd's medical school graduation present - we were flying to St. Thomas, V.I. to meet the sailing ship S.V. Legacy.

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As we descended upon the Cyril E. King International airport what strikes even returning visitors is the variety of the stunning blue watery hues that glisten and sparkle about these emerald island outcroppings. Are the crystal clear waters topaz - aquamarine - or deep azure? - Yes they are, and much more.

This artistic tropic palate is brimming with a sensuously alluring invitation to come bathe and refresh in the opulent beauty. You will surround yourself with pristine natural splendor and the simple serenity that is offered on most of these islands.

Like a series of green sea turtles, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the neighboring British Virgin Islands dot the unbelievably pure and clear surrounding waters. These island gems are just 90 miles southeast from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The S.V. Legacy was docked at Crown Bay for our arrival, and I had spotted her towering masts before the taxi turned into the docking area. Our late arrival was expected, as a delay in flying made us the last to board. The ship was like an inviting lady from the pages of sailing history. The crew was friendly and welcoming throughout our week aboard.

I had read ads and articles on the Windjammer Barefoot sailing company nearly all of my life, and the lure to sails is one that seems ingrained in our nature - the salty air and the brimming sails seem primal to many who love the sea as I do. In 1947 Captain Mike Burk formed the Windjammer Barefoot concept - and the rest is vacationing history.

Legacy was acquired by the company in 1990. She was formerly a French research ship, and was quickly converted to a traditional tall mast ship accommodating up to 130 passengers on Caribbean venues.

Life Aboard: Long time Windjammer buffs were worried that the larger and more accommodating Legacy would forget the traditional sort of barebones approach to small group sailing that the older ships offered the traditionalists. That ambience had become an icon for those infatuated sailing souls who were Windjammer repeat clients over the years.

But, the Legacy quickly embraced even the long time sailing set. And for you would-be first time sailors on a Windjammer Barefoot cruise, the Legacy is longer, wider and more spacious than the others in the fleet, we were told onboard.

A mammoth amount of deck space makes even a full ship seem roomy. Cabins range from quite compact singles, a quad is offered, some triples, and even a couple of decked-out cabins with entertainment centers. Since most people do not book the suites with television, you may expect larger cabins compared to Windjammer's other ships, but comparing the cabins to large cruise ships - they may seem smaller and more plainly utilitarian. Legacy maintains a small lounge with books and television for other guests.

There is ample storage space for the product that is offered. Barefoot cruising means shorts, sandals and sneakers ... so pack light if you are not familiar with Windjammer's atmosphere. Expect dinner with fellow mates in the same type casual attire. But, expect meals that are both eye-appealing and tasteful, with a varied selection.

I loved the mornings with coffee in hand and above the frigate birds and gulls soared to lead the way. At night after dinner and a symphonic rose-colored sunset, the stars dazzled the night-sky for a tranquil return to natural and peaceful personal moments that life awaits - these were special moments upon the S.V. Legacy.

Goings On: Windjammer offers clients a chance to have fun, and an opportunity to focus outwardly on what is around the ship - splendid scenery and natural wonders - not bingo and ice-carvings or shipboard malls.

A couple of evenings brought on games that ranged from innocent to salty bawdy adult humor, but most nights left time for the silence of stars, personal CD players and conversation with new friends. The clients came from Alaska, Europe, Australia, and across the USA. On the whole a nice mix of guests from PhDs to plumbers who were all looking for a common interest - unwinding fun mixed with the sea, sails, and the soft sands in paradise.

After breakfast each day Captain Julian had talks and orientations on daily events, and crew members were always available and friendly. Evenings the Windjammer tradition was the music "Amazing Grace" and it greeted the sunsets - a romantic, if not spiritual tradition. If the sails were set, then you could opt to join in the hoisting and partake in sailing lessons where possible - a fun experience for all.

I felt the wondrous itinerary around the Virgin Islands to be one of the most lovely on earth in all of my travels, but due to the short distances between the islands there was not much sails-up time ... a disappointment for me and others aboard ... perhaps some ambiguous sailing time about the area could be added by planning. The tough call here is the short distances from island to island on this itinerary. But, it is a sailing adventure that is sought and bought by clients, regardless of short distances.

Ashore Mate! The natural wonders of St. John U.S.V.I. are just four miles from St. Thomas, and it offers Trunk Bay, the only national park under water, and a nice tour of the island is reasonably priced and includes Trunk Bay snorkeling time.

Another crowd pleaser was the British Virgin Island of Gorda and her world known Bath geological area. Huge granite boulders decorate the swimming area and create swim-through cave-like areas. I suggested to Windjammer they offer and or advise swimming or beach-shoes for the rocky areas encountered at times on these islands ... ouch!

My favorite island of the week was one I had not seen in 30 years, Tortola, B.V.I. Though Windjammer has outings for divers and other tours, we decided to take a taxi with other guests over to world famous and less crowded Brewer's Bay. This is likely one of the most picturesque beaches on earth. Hyper-lush hills surround a cove that includes some rather Bohemian camping areas, and excellent reefs for snorkeling.

A beach picnic one day on Peter Island was ideal and memorable. Once you are into the mode of no hour-to-hour activities like the huge cruise ships, and you begin to focus on what is around and about you - you may also become one of the many Windjammer devotees!

Windjammer Barefoot cruises are now on my thumbs-up cruise/sailing recommendation list! This cruise product is not for the tuxedo and ball gown enchanted set - but the company has a true and growing following in the small ship and sailing niche market that I will fondly remember.

The Fore and Aft : Though St. Thomas is a bit more bustling than the outer islands, she deserves a good exploration from the shopping in town to wonderful and world famous Magen's Bay. I always suggest flying into a cruise port a day or two early and perhaps spending a day afterward.

A new special memory for me is Sandy and Martha, as they want to be known, at the 1800's building that is remodeled into the Galleon House Hotel B & B. They have just 12 rooms, and are moderately priced. You need to be able to navigate 40 plus steps up from downtown, but the vistas can be wonderful and worth the effort. The convenience is perfect for dining and shopping. In fact the well recommended Herve Restaurant and Wine Bar adjoins conveniently to the Galleon House.

Sandy and Martha are down-to-earth and friendly and will see to your needs with a warm greeting and welcome. Breakfast is to suit your delight, whether hot or cold, and a refreshing pool waits along the series of steps. The accommodations are quite adequate. There are rooms in a newer add-on and in the older building all connected by walkways and steps.

Setting Sails for Paradise:
Windjammer Barefoot Cruises (800) 327-2601
Galleon House: (800) 524-2052
Herve Restaurant and Wine Bar
Virgin Island Tourism


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