The good news first: For many years, a fleet of six authentic sailing ships, serviced by a supply ship, went cruising the smaller islands of the Caribbean in a manner that was pure magic to its loyal followers. Created by the colorful Capt. Mike Burke, their crews were an insouciant but lovable group who joked with passengers, drank with them, accompanied them on island excursions and snorkeling, served them excellent food, and maintained a sailing tradition that featured informality both in dress and socializing, youthful, fun camaraderie, and a general atmosphere befitting the name "Barefoot Windjammers."
Windjammer Barefoot Cruises went belly-up in 2007, and a large number of fans were left utterly bereft. They now have a small reason to hope for better times in the future. A Barefoot Windjammers passenger succeeded in purchasing one of these tall ships (the Diamant), staffed it with the captain and crew drawn from the old firm, and stationed it at the island of Grenada in the deep Caribbean. The company — Island Windjammer Cruises (877-772-4549; www.islandwindjammers.com) —is about to complete (in December) a full year of apparently successful sailing, and is promising further cruises every week from Grenada, leaving at 5 p.m. every Sunday on six-day sailings (each carrying 12 passengers) of such unspoiled islands as Carriacou, Mayreau, Bequia, Tobago Cays and others. You wear shorts or a bathing suit throughout the entire week; you disembark around 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
Pricing is quite simple: $1,899 per person in high season (mid-November through late May), $1,799 per person in low season (late May to mid-November), with single people offered a "share" with another passenger of the same gender. The single-room supplement is too high to be considered.
There apparently still is space unsold for the November sailing scheduled for Nov. 21 to 27. You provide your own airfare to Grenada. Though considerably more expensive than the old Windjammer Barefoot Cruises were (which may ensure the line's viability and ultimate growth into a company of several sailing vessels), the feel of the operation is excitingly similar to that of the old Barefoot company, for which much gratitude is owed to the stalwart former passengers who brought about this resurrection.
But bad news about the National Parks:
Because of high temperatures, the glaciers are melting to such an extent that there may soon be no glaciers in Glacier National Park. Mining operations just outside the gates of some parks are poisoning the area and dumping harmful waste on pristine lands. But mainly, we are loving them to death. Because of the recession, visits to the National Parks have risen so much (by cost-conscious Americans flocking to enjoy inexpensive vacations) that the normal wear-and-tear on the parks — litter, tramping down of native flora by heedless families wandering off trail — has accelerated their decline. And though the current administration has increased yearly appropriations, the increase isn't nearly enough to cover the gap in infrastructure repairs and maintenance.
Our National Parks are in trouble.
That was the message delivered two weeks ago on my weekly radio show by Bill Briggs, a writer on travel subjects for msnbc.com. It was a depressing presentation that made many more points beyond the few I've summarized above.
The solution? More money. According to Briggs, it's vital that we pressure Congress to continue increasing yearly appropriations for the parks, and that we make our own voluntary contributions to the National Park Service.
The latter funds, of course, are like drops in a bucket, and the key effort should be to increase the yearly funds available to the parks by at least $1 billion.
If such additional funding is not provided, according to Briggs, it may be that visits to the parks will have to be limited and visitor quotas established. That would be a tragedy.