Caribbean SV Mandalay
The 236-foot SV Mandalay has a provenance that has become almost as much myth as reality. Built in 1923, she's lived the high life while plying the seas for famous financier E.F. Hutton and shipping tycoon George Vettlesen. In a later incarnation, she circled the globe, putting more than a million nautical miles under her keel while in the service of Columbia University decades of salty tales have been embedded in her decks and bulkheads.
With Windjammer she has been transformed into a ship of adventure and romance, catching the winds off the British Virgin Islands (one of three itineraries) as if torn from the celluloid memories of an Errol Flynn movie. Nothing quickens a sailor's pulse like seeing this kind of ship at full sail, the bowsprit piercing the wind, sheets taut and full of anticipation.
The BVIs have been part of sailing lore since the islands were not-so-secret hideouts for privacy-seeking pirates. The culture here has evolved from the raucous, untamed days of Blackbeard to a Caribbean-ized amalgam of British-ness and sunset-ruled, laid-back island time. And laid-back is what the Mandalay is all about.
The Mandalay knows these waters well. Almost every anchorage fronts an empty beach awaiting footprints that lead off to the horizon. In the BVIs, though, it's impossible to ignore the silky blue worlds beneath the boat. For divers and snorkelers, the Mandalay sidles up to some of the Caribbean's best sites. Off Salt Island is the wreck of the 310-foot RMS Rhone. This mail steamer has been transformed by the sea into a vividly colorful undersea kingdom, covered in orange cup corals and a forest of sponges. Divers still occasionally discover bottles and other artifacts, and finning around the skeletal ribs that look like the scavenged remains of a massive animal evokes a sense of the tragedy that struck this ship during a hurricane in 1867.
Diving is done from 24-foot dive boats at every anchorage, so you can indulge your dive jones among such descents as Santa Monica Rock and Sandy's Ledge off Norman Island (the original "Treasure Island"); current-swept and lush Vanishing Rocks and fish-filled Thumb Rock off Cooper Island; the fairy-tale reefs of Alice in Wonderland off Ginger Island; and the mysterious and rarely visited seamount of Mercurius Rock near Jost Van Dyke. Among the more than 50 islands that make up the BVIs, there's an incredible variety of diving, from shipwrecks to caverns to reefs crowded with marine life. And nothing can replace the feeling of the wind wrapping around you like a quiet elixir as you weigh anchor to follow the whims of the sea. Ty Sawyer