January 28, 2014

Struth! The world's gone cruising

21.3 MILLION people took an ocean cruise somewhere in the world in 2013 on ships ranging from the biggest (like Oasis of the Seas) to the smallest (SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream I) shown here together in St Thomas in the Caribbean.

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says an amazing 760,000 people cruised into and out of Australian ports in 2013, putting us at Number 5 in the world's Top 10 cruise market areas.

The country to enjoy the biggest number of cruise-goers through its ports was the USA with a huge 11-million-plus in 2013, followed by the UK/Ireland with 1,719,000, Germany 1,637,000 and Italy 860,000.

And amazingly the 760,000 who sailed through our ports in 2013 also helped put us at Number 2 in the world's Top Five cruise growth markets since 2008: Scandinavia/Finland enjoyed the biggest market share increase over those five years with a growth rate of 184.6%, Australia just over a 130% increase, and Brazil was third with an 84.8% increase in market share since 2008.

All up, according to industry body the Cruise Lines International Association, a total 21.3 million people took a cruise somewhere in the world in 2013, with this expected to increase to 21.7 million this year.

January 22, 2014

Freixenet: World's biggest selling sparkling wine, from where?

EXTERIOR of the historic Cavas Freixenet Winery in Spain,
with one the company's fleet of quirky-shaped promotional
vehicles – this one the shape of a bubbly bottle.  (Wikimedia)
David Ellis

WHEN Dolores Sala Vive and Pedro Ferrer Bosch fell madly in love in the early 1900s, little did they realise that the sparkle they would bring into each other's lives would reach out with even more engulfing sparkle to millions of others in some 150 countries around the globe.

For Dolores was from Spain's 19th century Casa Sala winemaking family and Pedro from friendly rival La Freixenada whose history dated back to the 13th century, and within a decade they would be making not just wine, but their very own cavas – Spanish sparkling wines – of a quality that would amaze the world.

So much so in fact, that over the next 100 years theirs would become the biggest-selling bubblies in the world, with sales of over 200-million bottles a year – including 250,000 of those in far-off Australia alone.

But sadly Dolores and Pedro did not have the time they deserved together to enjoy their successes:  Pedro and the couple's eldest son were killed during the 1930s Spanish civil war, leaving Dolores to nurture their young company and raise her four other children single-handedly.

They had called their company Freixenet (pronounced fresh-Annette) and on the death of her husband Dolores surprised the industry with her oenological skills, something unusual for a woman at the time. And equally unusually, she appointed herself head of the company board, presiding over it until her death at 89 years of age in 1978 when her eldest living son, José took over the reins to lead Freixenet to even more mind-boggling heights.

Today the fascinating Cavas Freixenet winery in the town of Sant Sadurni in the heart of the Penedes winemaking region of Spain, and about 45km south-west of Barcelona, attracts 90,000 visitors annually.

And they're not disappointed: the old part of the extraordinary 20km of underground cellars ("caves") dates back to 1922 and goes four storeys down into the cool subterranean limestone, some 135,000 cubic metres of ideal conditions for housing the thousands-upon-thousands of bottles of cava as they age peacefully in perfect conditions.

So extensive are these caves in fact, that small trains have to be used to move visitors through them on organised tours that begin with an audio visual presentation of the history of the company, a guided tour of the winery in which Freixenet sparklings are still made true to the traditional Methode Champenoise with secondary fermentation in-bottle, through the vast cellaring caves, a tasting of the Freixenet product of course – and finally a must-do visit to the in-house Dolores Ferrer wine paraphernalia shop.

As well as learning much about the actual sparkling winemaking process, visitors also learn how best to store, serve and enjoy sparkling wines – and how somewhat bizarrely, Freixenet as the world's biggest maker of sparkling wines, in fact owns just 300ha of grape vines.

The 100-million kilograms or so of grapes it uses each year come from some 2000-plus growers, whose vines are inspected with military-like precision daily throughout every vintage to determine optimum time for hand-picking from the thousands upon thousands of individual rows. And the logistics of their delivery from so many growers to arrive in the winery in the peak of condition, would do the most meticulous 5-star General proud.

Freixenet today accounts for over half of all of Spain's sparkling wine production, and 80% of its exports – and is still family-owned, with José semi-retired and his own son Pedro, a fourth generation Ferrer, now managing the business.

And amongst José's fondest memories of his years at the helm? "When I called a new cava Cordon Negro in 1974 and decided to sell it in a frosted black bottle, my colleagues said: 'A black bottle? Are you crazy?' But Cordon Negro is today the biggest-selling sparkling wine in the world, and that black bottle is one of the world's most recognisable." He still chuckles about it today.

You can visit the Cavas Freixenet winery by train from Barcelona-Sants or Barcelona Placa Catalunya Stations to Sant Sadurni D'Anoia station (the winery is just across the road,) by car via the AP-7 or AP-2 motorways or with several daily coach operators from Barcelona.

The 1.5hr winery tour costs E7 per adult with pensioner/child discounts; the coach tours from Barcelona are higher cost. Details www.freixenet.com



[] GOING down… the cellars descend four levels underground. (Freixenet Wines)
[] PART of the original cellars dug into the limestone in the 1920s and still in use today. Visitors use small trains to get around the vast cellars.  (Freixenet Wines)
[] MORE modern section of the cellars. (Freixenet Wines)
[] "ARE you crazy?" colleagues asked José Ferrer when he came up with the idea of a frosted black bottle. Today's it's the world's biggest-selling sparkling wine. (Freixenet Wines.) 
[] HISTORIC poster dating back to 1929, and one of the company's most successful ever. (Freixenet Wines)

January 13, 2014

Struth! Intolerant? Not me, now hurry up!

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says Britain's tourism bosses are being accused of coming-up with advice akin to that from Basil of Fawlty Towers fame, after they put a series of new "Do's" and "Don'ts" for the travel industry on their VisitBritain website.

Amongst their advice is that Indians tend to change their minds quite frequently, Canadians are offended if called Americans, Russians shouldn't be given rooms with low ceilings because "they are a tall nation," people from Hong Kong shouldn't be given four-poster beds as they associate them with ghosts, and that Germans and Austrians can be demanding to the point of seeming rude and aggressive.

And Australians? According to the new VisitBritain website local tourism operators and hoteliers should expect Australians to be very direct and to the point, and sometimes "hard to read." And because of the distance we've travelled to get to Britain, we "may not have slept for 30 hours, and could show signs of intolerance."

Critics say the advice is stereotyped and could be considered offensive to some tourists, but VisitBritain says it's based on "wide market intelligence and allows for an invaluable insight into key markets globally."

January 08, 2014

A Decade of Excellence: Queen Mary 2 celebrates her first ten years

Queen Mary 2 celebrates her first ten years, after travelling almost 1.5 million nautical miles and looking after 1.3 million passengers

Cunard’s flagship Queen Mary 2 will celebrate her first ten years of service in 2014. Since her spectacular naming by Her Majesty The Queen on January 8, 2004, Queen Mary 2 has undertaken a total of 419 voyages including over 200 Transatlantic Crossings and called at 182 ports in 60 countries.

Since becoming the Cunard flagship on completion of her maiden Transatlantic crossings in May 2004, Queen Mary 2 has remained unchallenged as the world’s largest, longest, tallest, widest and most expensive ocean liner ever built and the most famous and fastest passenger ship in operation today.

At 345m long, if stood on her stern Queen Mary 2 would fall just three metres shy of Uluru and would be about 40m taller than the tip of Sydney Tower. Capable of carrying 2600 passengers and 1250 crew, Queen Mary 2 is a floating town just smaller than the NSW south coast town of Merimbula (pop 4000), almost double the size of WA’s Exmouth (pop 2000), larger than the SA town of Coober Pedy (estimated pop 3500) and the Victorian town of Daylesford (pop 3460) and more than three times the size of Queensland’s Burrum Heads in Hervey Bay (pop 1224).

In her first ten years of service she’s sailed the equivalent of three times to the moon and back. She’s carried over 1.3 million guests, the equivalent of the entire population of Adelaide, and over 2000 dogs.

“Since entering service in 2004, Queen Mary 2 has reigned supreme on the Atlantic and around the world, proudly carrying more than a million guests. She has attracted awards, accolades and admiration as the greatest ocean liner ever built for a decade and we intend to mark her first ten years of service of in style,” said Angus Struthers, Cunard’s Marketing Director.

To mark the milestone, Queen Mary 2 will depart on her tenth World Cruise on January 10, 2014, when she and Queen Elizabeth sail together from Southampton after a fusillade of celebratory fireworks.

As part of her tenth year celebrations, Queen Mary 2 will embark on her second Royal Circumnavigation of Australia in February and March.

The anniversary year will also see all three Cunard Queens visit Australia for the first time with Queen Mary 2 arriving in Fremantle on February 12, Queen Elizabeth sailing into Sydney on March 1 and Queen Victoria making landfall in Brisbane on March 3.

The major 10th anniversary celebrations will begin on May 9, 2014, when all three ships will arrive together in their homeport of Southampton and sister ships Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth will salute the flagship’s first ten years. The day will feature special sail-pasts, a celebratory lunch and a spectacular send-off of fireworks as all three ships set sail together from Southampton that evening, with Queen Mary 2 leading the way.

When Queen Mary 2 sets off on the first of two special commemorative Crossings to and from New York in May, it will cement her role as the only passenger ship in the world maintaining a scheduled service across the Atlantic, something a Cunard ship has done since 1840.

Taking part in Cunard’s acclaimed ‘Insights’ speaker program during the Crossing to New York will be two special individuals: Commodore Ron Warwick, who holds the distinction of being the first Master of Queen Mary 2, and Stephen Payne OBE, who was largely responsible for the overall design of the ship. In their separate talks, they will present fascinating insights into the operation and construction of the world’s grandest ocean liner.

Both will be guests of honour at a gala evening on board which will include a commemorative dinner with a special menu. In addition, tenor Ben Makisi (billed as ‘The Voice of the South Pacific’), magician Philip Hitchcock and violin duo ‘Elektra’ will thrill passengers on board during the Crossing.

Both the Commodore and Stephen Payne will sail from New York to Southampton with Queen Mary 2 on the return May 16-23 crossing, and will be joined by comedian Roy Walker as part of the entertainment line-up.

There are limited spaces left on the May 9 Crossing from Southampton to New York, with prices starting from $1699* per person twin share. Fares for the May 16 Crossing from New York to Southampton start from $1459* per person twin share.

For more details on Cunard visit www.cunard.com

*Fares are per person twin share. Subject to availability, conditions apply.

January 06, 2014

Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy born from scandal


David Ellis


YOU'D imagine she'd be British Society to her bootstraps – after all, she had been chosen as the model for the mascot on the radiator of that most British of all institutions, the Rolls-Royce motor car.


But rather than coming from some famous society family, or being plucked from the best of London model schools for her Rolls-Royce assignment, Eleanor Thornton was simply the English-born daughter of a Spanish mum and an Aussie dad, and was a school drop-out at 16.


And as well as modelling for the Rolls-Royce radiator mascot she had notched up another, if somewhat more dubious honour – by 22, she'd become not only secretary to, but mistress of the older Eton- and Oxford-educated John Edward Scott-Montagu, member of the House of Commons, officially Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and married to Lady Cecil (Kerr,) daughter of the 9th Marquess of Lothian.


Eleanor's relationship with Rolls-Royce was well-contrived. When Charles Rolls and Henry Royce built their first motor-cars in 1904 they that did not give them radiator mascots, preferring instead simply a stylish R-R logo. But many buyers thought a car of such prestige warranted its own distinctive marque, and through his own Roller ownership and friendship with British artist Charles Sykes, Lord Montagu was instrumental in having Rolls-Royce officially appoint Sykes in 1910 to create a Rolls-Royce radiator mascot.


A motoring enthusiast, Lord Montagu was publisher of Britain's first motoring magazine, Car Illustrated and in 1902 had taken-on as his secretary Eleanor Thornton. And despite the fact that she was 22 and he was 36 and married, the relationship between the two moved quickly from that of employer and employee, to one of intense lovers.


Lord Montagu suggested to Charles Sykes that his mistress would make the ideal model for the Rolls-Royce mascot Sykes was working on, pointing out that the company wanted a "graceful little goddess" who reflected amongst other things the Rolls-Royce spirit of harnessing of energy, of speedy silence, beauty, and of superb grace.


Sykes' first figurine made in 1911 depicted a beautiful wind-swept lady with a finger pressed to her lips and which he titled 'The Whisperer' – signifying Rolls-Royce's silent swiftness, but in fact a nod to Lord Montagu and Eleanor Thornton's illicit affair; Lord Montagu used it on his own Rolls-Royce cars for many years.


Sykes also created a second mascot, the now-famous figure of a woman leaning forward with arms outstretched behind and above her, fine cloth billowing wing-like from her arms and back.


He called it Spirit of Speed, and Rolls-Royce later dubbed it officially The Spirit of Ecstasy (although as Eleanor Thornton was the model, some wags knowing of her relationship with Lord Montagu, re-titled it "Ellie in her nightie")


Eleanor Thornton bore a daughter to Lord Montagu, but immediately had her adopted-out so as to avoid a scandal in London's high society.


And in 1915 when Lord Montagu was invited by the British Government to go to India to advise on public transport needs in the colony, it was decided Eleanor would go with him – by this time Lady Cecil, well aware of her husband's infidelity, had met and become as friendly as possible in the circumstances with Eleanor, presumably to avoid any public airing of dirty laundry.


Montagu and Eleanor sailed on the steamship SS Persia, and on December 30 1915 off Crete, a German U-boat fired a single torpedo at the ship, which exploded and immediately began sinking. Montagu grabbed Eleanor and attempted to get her to a lifeboat, but as the Persia listed he lost his hold on her and she was swallowed in a wall of water: he survived, grieving later from his hospital bed "I should have got a stronger grip on her."


Once home he placed a memorial plaque to his beloved mistress on the Family Pew in the Beaulieu parish church; today visitors to the Beaulieu National Motoring Museum in the grounds of the imposing Beaulieu Palace House, that's still home to the Barons of Montagu in Hampshire's New Forest, can see the original 'The Whisperer' Rolls-Royce mascot.


And over 250 famous, historic and antique vehicles including early Rolls-Royces, James Bonds, Mr Beans and other movie characters' cars, Australia's first Holdens, British racers, historic buses, motorcycles, and a detailed replica 1930's English motor garage.






[] SECOND Baron Montagu of Beaulieu – a 13 year affair with the model for Rolls-Royce's famous radiator mascot. (Flicker)

[] THE mistress with her lover's Rolls-Royce sporting the mascot she modelled for: Baron Montagu perceived her as "a graceful little goddess." (Wikipedia)

[] ROLLS-ROYCE'S Spirit of Ecstasy today: "fine cloth billowing wing-like from her arms and back…" (Rolls-Royce Motor Company)

[] HISTORIC postcard of the SS Persia on which Eleanor Thornton drowned after the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat. (Wikipedia)

[] BEAULIEU Palace House in Hampshire's New Forest, still home to the Barons of Montagu. (Wikipedia)

[] A SMALL part of the Beaulieu National Motor Museum in the grounds of Beaulieu Palace House. (Beaulieu National Motor Museum)


Struth! Pluck a Chook for Christmas

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that in Spain a wine company that now sells more sparkling wine than any other maker in the world, at Christmas continued a tradition it's upheld since its founding during the tough economic days of early last century.

It gave every employee a hamper containing foodstuffs ranging from a bottle of olive oil to a live chicken for the Christmas Day table.

Amongst other assorted items that employees of Freixenet Wines at Sant Sadurni 45km outside Barcelona (photo shows Freixenet Winery entrance) received in their hampers was a leg of ham, some appropriate sauces for Festive Season dining, bottled pears and peaches in syrup, turrons that are a traditional Spanish Christmas nougat made with hazelnuts, walnuts and honey – and enough bottles of Freixenet sparkling and still wines to see them through the Christmas-New Year holiday break.

And as Freixenet Wines bought Australia's Katnook Estate in South Australia's Coonawarra a few years ago, for the first time the workers' 2013 hampers included a bottle of Aussie Katnook Estate as well.

(For those who didn't want to take their live chicken home on the local train or bus, the company thoughtfully had a butcher on hand to kill, pluck and clear the bird ready for the oven.)

January 04, 2014

Sea Cloud sails on myth and mystery



David Ellis

THE Great Depression seemed to mean little to fabulously wealthy New York businessman, Edward Francis (Ed) Hutton who agreed in 1930 – Depression or not – to get a sailing boat on which he and his independently millionaire wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post could entertain friends to parties and little sails at weekends.

They contracted America's best naval architects to design something to Marjorie's specifications, and which with her perceived standing in society would leave the aquatic playthings of business associates floundering in their boat's wake.
With Ed giving her free rein, Marjorie came up with a veritable floating palace:  at an amazing 110-metres – or 360ft – it would be longer than a football field, weigh-in at 2,500 tonnes, and have the most luxurious owner's suite possible,  six opulent guest's staterooms complete with gold-plated bathroom fittings, lavish dining areas, lounges, and smoking and games rooms.

And four masts would be needed to carry the massive amount of sails for crossing the open seas, so a crew would be necessary that from the captain down through other officers, chefs, waiters, butlers, maids, deck-hands and sail-trimmers, would number seventy-two.

The boat, to be named Hussar, was built at the famous Krupp shipyards at Kiel in Germany, and while this was being done Marjorie had full-scale plans of the interior drawn on the floor of a rented New York warehouse. There she spent every spare moment "furnishing" these interior spaces with priceless antiques and heirlooms that would be transferred aboard to the exact same positions when her boat arrived from Kiel.

Hussar became a second home, taking Ed and Marjorie and friends on jaunts to the Caribbean, the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii and the Mediterranean until the dream came to a shattering end in 1934: just four years after taking delivery of Hussar, Ed and Marjorie suddenly divorced – Ed signing the barque over to his ex-wife the next day.

Although she'd been married once before, Marjorie wasted little time as a single lady: just four months after leaving Ed she married an old friend, Joseph (Joe) Davies, an attorney and one-time Presidential Economic Advisor.

Two years later Joe was appointed American Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and he and Marjorie took Hussar – which she'd now re-named Sea Cloud – with them, to the delight of Russia's diplomatic circles who were enthralled at being invited to share in something of western decadence, and who helped Marjorie acquire priceless Russian heirlooms for Sea Cloud.

After returning home and when America entered the Second War, the couple patriotically chartered Sea Cloud to the US Coast Guard for a symbolic $1; the magnificent vessel was stripped internally and of masts and sails, and guns mounted on her decks for her to patrol the North Atlantic for enemy subs.

Although Sea Cloud was rebuilt to her former glory after the war, Joe had lost interest in the barque – largely because he suffered miserably from seasickness – and also apparently in Marjorie, and the couple divorced in 1955.

Finding it hard even with her wealth to afford its upkeep, Marjorie decided to sell Sea Cloud – amazingly for a capitalist, to the despotic dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo.

Trujillo renamed Sea Cloud as Angelita, and when he was assassinated his family tried to flee with his body and the Angelita to Cannes in France, but the new Dominican government grabbed the yacht and sold it to an American company as a world-roaming "ocean school" for the children of those who could afford such trifles.

The venture failed and the old barque was abandoned for years until a group of German tall-ship enthusiasts rescued her, rotting, in 1978 and took her back to Kiel to be painstakingly restored at a cost of millions.

Eighteen months later she sailed out of Kiel as Sea Cloud once more, and now follows the sun for Sea Cloud Cruises through the Mediterranean, Caribbean and the Atlantic with just 64 passengers who can afford Marjorie's original concept of the Good Life.

(FOOTNOTE: Marjorie remarried for a fourth time just months after divorcing Joe Davies, but that marriage to businessman and fox-hunting enthusiast Herbert May lasted just six years, and when they too divorced – she was then 77 – she retook her original name Marjorie Merriweather Post until her death in 1973.)


[] SEA CLOUD today – restored to her former glory to follow the sun with those seeking Marjorie's good life

[] OPULENT dining room aboard Sea Cloud, replicating Marjorie's original

[] SEA CLOUD as a US Coast Guard patrol boat in WWII – sans luxury interiors, masts and sails

[] MARJORIE MERRIWEATHER POST in her suite aboard her Sea Cloud

Originally issued 2 AUGUST 2010

Hunter S Thompson - the original Gonzo journalist pens The Rum Diary



David Ellis


AMERICAN actor Johnny Depp gave new meaning to "going out with a bang" when he organised the scattering of the ashes of his author-friend Hunter S Thompson on the writer's Owl Farm in Colorado in 2005.


No solemn casting of the ashes into the wind by grieving family or friends, no dropping amid basket-loads of flowers from a hovering helicopter… Depp instead had them scattered far more spectacularly – with a thunderous bang from a canon mounted atop a near-50m high tower built specially for the job.


And for good measure to ensure they'd journey even further than the canon could fire, he had a kilo or so of fireworks mixed in with them.


It was a fitting end for the fire-brand writer who gave the world "Gonzo journalism" (a style of writing where the author becomes part of the story itself,) and whose life was an almost stand-alone chapter in survival on drugs and booze… even Thompson himself once writing: "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone – but they've always worked for me."


We were reminded of all this when we mentioned to a travel-writing colleague our plans to visit San Juan in Puerto Rico next April, and he pointed out that it was actually in San Juan that Hunter S Thompson had launched into the world of journalism – albeit with not quite the same impact as he'd departed it.


Working as a copy-boy with Time Magazine in New York City in the late 1950s, Thompson had aspirations of working up to a writer's position, but was instead sacked for insubordination. So he headed south to the sunny Caribbean where he scored a junior reporter's position with the El Sportivo newspaper – that went belly-up just weeks later.


Thompson then talked his way into a job as a contributor to the New York Herald Tribune, while at the same time writing a novel called The Rum Diary, that wasn't published until nearly 40 years later and well after he'd become famous. It was a thinly disguised autobiography of his almost-maniacal time in a-then tawdry and down-market San Juan where he'd spent most of his time fuelled by rot-gut rum.


But as we know he went on to become one of the world's best-known counter-culture authors and newspaper contributors. In the late 1990s, however, he began retreating more and more into despondency over his health, which he did nothing to help with his mainstay diet of booze and drugs; on February 20 2005 he put a gun to his head in his farm's kitchen and ended his tortured life.


Exactly six months later to the day his ashes were scattered across the farm as he had requested, with firm friend Johnny Depp orchestrating the job (Depp had played the part of Thompson in the movie version of Thompson's book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.) Over 250 high-ranking politicians, film stars, entertainers and other VIP guests attended the private event – with an army of security guards keeping at bay hundreds of Thompson followers and devotees camped on the hills overlooking the farm after the bizarre ash-scattering scheme had leaked out.


When we told our colleague of our planned visit to San Juan he suggested we search out the El Batey bar on which Hunter S Thompson is said to have based the seedy Al's Backyard in The Rum Diary.


And for good measure, by comparison we drop into the El Convento hotel just up the road whose simple, unadorned façade belies the fact that it is one of the world's grandest hostelries – and most certainly not likely to have been a Thompson haunt.


Originally built in 1653 as a Carmelite convent, it closed 110 years ago after proving too costly to maintain, and over the next forty years struggled through life as a retail store, dance hall, dosshouse for the homeless, and ultimately a garage for garbage trucks.


Then in the 1960s retail heir Robert Frederic Woolworth saw it, liked it, bought it and converted it into a lavish 100-room 5-star hotel for the rich and famous visiting San Juan.


Cold beers at El Batey, followed by cocktails at the El Convento, certainly sound to us like the makings for a good yarn come next April...






[] HUNTER S Thompson's Owl Farm – fitting site to go out with a bang. (FlickR)

[] THE author about to speak at the Miami Book Festival in 1988. (Wikipedia)

[] WITH one of his many memorable quotes. (FlickR)

[] SAN Juan's El Batey Bar: was this the bar on which he based his seedy Al's Backyard in The Rum Diary? (FlickR)

[] EL CONVENTO – simple convent to one of the world's grandest hostelries. (Malcolm Andrews)

[] CARMELITE Nuns certainly didn't have it as good as this. (El Convento Hotel)



Jost van Dyke - secret Caribbean island



David Ellis


EVEN the most-seasoned travellers could be forgiven for 'fessing-up that they're not quite sure where to find the island of Jost van Dyke – one of the best kept little secrets in the Caribbean.


Because 400 years after the Dutch pirate was plundering ships in the Caribbean, this little speck in the British Virgin Islands that's named after him, and is just 14 square kms in size, is home to fewer than 300 residents and still accessible only by sea.


And while he had a home and some minor fortifications on the island, with a motley assortment of fellow Dutch, French and British pirates, Jost van Dyke also grew tobacco and cotton between pirating duties.


It was another century after he moved on before his island would next be settled, this time by Quakers who started sugar cane plantations, and despite their public campaigning against slavery, worked these plantations with – you've got it, slave labour.


But when slavery was abolished in 1830, the Quakers' quickly went belly-up, the island virtually hibernated for 100 years, and the population dwindled to around just 100.


Towards the middle of the last century tourists, however – mainly cruising yachties – started to take notice of little Jost van Dyke, and the population began slowly rebuilding in response to the demand for facilities to cater for these visitors.


Today it's Party Central amongst those in the know, and while there are no facilities for larger cruise ships, visits by the more boutique SeaDream Yacht Club, Windstar Cruises, Star Clippers and Paul Gaugin Cruises, coupled with inter-island ferries and visiting yachts, can see the locals easily outnumbered on any one day by visitors.


And little wonder: here the beach sands are soft as talcum, there are just three quaint village-like settlements, and just one main road, which despite being built in the 1990s, the locals have never quite got around to giving a name to. It's still simply The Road.


And in one of these villages their "road" through town is actually the beach, which probably explains why locals call Jost van Dyke "Barefoot Island." (There's even a sign outside one bar proclaiming "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Clothes, No Problem.")


Another oddity in the village of Great Harbour is the Stress Free Bar: here guests pour their own drinks, write their purchases in a pad on the bar – and settle-up at the end of the day.


And at Foxy's bar-on-the-beach, long-time resident Foxy Callwood's Old Year's Night (New Year's Eve) party lasts three nights, his bar boasts a ceiling with enough T-shirts and donated underwear to run a garage sale, and his barbecued ribs, grilled lobsters and flying fish sandwiches are to die for...


Conversely the smallest bar on the island is called the Soggy Dollar – from the condition of banknotes handed over by sailors who swim ashore from their yachts for a drink and a meal.


To dry them, staff peg the soggy dollars to a clothesline out the back in the sun. And no, no one's pinched one yet.


The Soggy Dollar Bar also has its own House Cocktail called Painkiller, a potent mix of dark rum, pineapple and orange juice, and a splash of coconut cream.


Like the rest of the island, the Soggy Dollar Bar is all very laid back. As a barman tells us: "No one's in a hurry to get anywhere. The fastest living things on the island are the goats, and even they aren't in a hurry."


And a visiting yachtie adds: "Live by the adage of the Caribbean – how beautiful it is to do nothing all day, and then rest up afterwards."


He then bursts into the 1950s Harry Belafonte hit for us:


This is my island in the sun

Where my people have toiled since time begun

I may sail on many a sea

Her shores will always be home to me.


And don't expect high-rise hotels, casinos or even big marketplaces on this Island in the Sun. It didn't even get electricity until the 1990s.


There are ferry services from the larger St John and St Thomas Islands in the US Virgin Islands, and your local travel agent can tell you how to join those boutique ships or tall-masters that sail the Caribbean and Jost van Dyke seasonally.






1.SOGGY Dollar Bar – so-named because sailors swam ashore and paid with soggy dollars. (Reid Wegley)

2. IDYLLIC beach lives up to the local adage: How beautiful to do nothing all day, and rest up afterwards. (BVI Tourism)

3. SIGN says it all about Jost van Dyke, the Caribbean's Party Central. (Corsair's Bar)

4. FOXY'S Bar – enough T-shirts and underwear to start a garage sale. (Reid Wegley)

5. ONLY inter-island ferries, boutique ships and tall-masters can visit here; 112-passeger SeaDream II anchors off Jost van Dyke. (SeaDream Yacht Club)


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