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Sailing splendour

Finding heaven on the high seas

Boarding a small luxury cruise ship around the Windwards proved just the ticket for Helen Atkinson Wood

Who doesn't daydream about sailing on their own private yacht to the most secluded coves in the Caribbean? But cruising?

In my mind, cruising was the preserve of a senior generation who enjoyed being transported in their thousands in a floating block of flats to a number of different tourist hotspots.

And that image stayed with me until the elegant four-masted motor yacht Windstar came over the horizon and into view. It quickly tipped any preconceived notions about what it is to take a cruise holiday on its head.

Before joining the Windstar, my mother and I spent a lovely night in Barbados - to acclimatise to the balmy weather of the Caribbean, you understand.

Just 30 minutes from the port of Bridgetown - home to luxury liners and international cruise companies - sits Fairmont Royal Pavilion a perfect hotel hideaway.

The hotel is much favoured by return visitors, and having sampled its delights, I wouldn't take much convincing to enjoy a second stay.

After a refreshing dip in the aqua-blue sea, a couple of pina colada cocktails and a dinner of fresh seafood, we began to feel human again after the long-haul flight from London.

At Bridgetown harbour there are humble wooden boats, there are grander ships - and then there's the regal Windstar.



Fairmont Royal Pavilion on Barbados is a perfect pre-cruise hotel



Now I don't know my port from my starboard when it comes to sailing terminology, but I do know that the reason this 440ft motor yacht is breathtaking is quite simply her sails.

Step aboard and you feel that you're in a different era, a feeling confirmed by the sight of the splendid teak decking, which makes you want to start every day with a game of quoits.

After exploring the sumptuous cabin that would be our home for the next week, we joined the other passengers on deck as we sailed away to Vangelis's theme tune to the film 1492: Conquest Of Paradise, a fitting melody to match the stirring setting.

The particular paradise we were setting sail to conquer came in the form of the Windward Islands - St Lucia, Grenada and St Vincent - on a cruise that promised to uncover the Caribbean's lesser known islands.

To be gently rocked to sleep each evening by the waves and wake up at a new island each morning feels more like time-travelling than a holiday at sea. And not knowing what sight is going to greet you as you throw back the curtains is incredibly exciting.

To work up an appetite before breakfast, we could take a body-stretching yoga or pilates class, or else just settle for a brisk walk on deck, which always comes with a beautiful azure-blue view.

One day we dropped anchor at the idyllic 44-islet Pigeon Island on St Lucia before a tender swept us across to this verdant national park. We clambered up Signal Hill, which provides stunning views across to Martinique, before treating ourselves to an ice-cold beer and kingfish roti.



Princess Margaret Beach in Bequia



Next we headed for the spectacular Spice Island of Grenada, where we could participate in anything from scuba-diving to river-tubing, and golf to sampling rum. The island is known for its cocoa, with chocolate factory tours offering a particularly aromatic insight into how this lush green island trades the fruits of its lands.

On another occasion, the Windstar crew swept us up from Princess Margaret Beach in tiny Bequia. It was at times like this that we really did feel like royalty returning to our own private yacht. The fact that the 99 guests on board were attended to by a discreet yet congenial crew of 99 might have had something to do with that. It's hard to argue with a ratio of 1:1.



Guests enjoy a 1:1 staff to guest ratio on board the Windstar



Exemplary service and comfort are one thing but the intimacy - and smiling crew - was what really made this trip so special.

Executive chef Budhi Thakur runs a tight ship in the galley, and to savour the vast array of gastronomic masterpieces - from caviar to the most stylish BBQ you'll ever attend - that he and his team of ten chefs manage to produce from the tiny kitchen is incredible.

Windstar? This vessel could easily be renamed Michelin Star. I've always fancied the idea of running away to sea and now I've found the perfect place on which to have such an adventure. And my mum would happily be my shipmate too.

It's got four masts, it's gleaming white, it's luxurious from stern to bow - and it's called Windstar.




First published in the Mail on Sunday -  April 2016

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