My first taste of the Caribbean.

by John Waco Jr April. 27, 2021 97 views

Pan American World Airways, originally founded as Pan American Airways and commonly known as Pan Am, was the principal and largest international air carrier and unofficial overseas flag carrier of the United States from 1927 until the airline's collapse on December 4, 1991. If you’re wondering when did Pan Am stop flying, and when did Pan Am go out of business, that would be on December 4th 1991, as the “World’s Most Experienced Airline” made its last flight from Bridgetown in Barbados to Miami.

If you’re wondering who bought Pan Am, it was Delta. Even so, what profited Delta did not necessarily help those left in the lurch by Pan Am’s demise. In the aftermath of Pan Am’s end, more than 7500 people were laid off while the fleet was liquidated. Pan Am’s ghost would linger on a bit longer, haunting the airline industry like Hamlet’s father, a specter of what was, but extremely short-lived revival attempts in 1996 and 1998 fizzled out quickly.

As for the airline that bought Pan Am’s Pacific routes (United) and the remnants of the company (Delta), they’re both obviously still around. While Pan Am’s marketing focused so heavily on quality and luxury, however, those two airlines have taken radically different routes in that regard. A 2019 Wall Street Journal ranking of US airline quality put Delta first, with United tied for second-last.

In the summer of 1992, I moved from Pan Am Airways to United Airlines after I tuck a year out and sailed down to Rodney Bay in St Lucia this was our first taste of the Caribbean and turned out to be the perfect introduction to cruising this area. There was an abundance of restaurants and bars, as well as the local village of Gros Islet a mile away. Someone from the marina told us to head over on a Friday night for the weekly Jump Up, so when the time came we duly walked down the rickety jetty towards the lights and thumping music.

The streets were thronged with people, locals and tourists alike. There were food stalls lining the street selling all manner of barbecued meat and fish, interspersed with makeshift bars groaning under the weight of jars and bottles bearing hand-written labels. We learned the hard way that purchasing one of these rum punches would ensure a headache the next morning: they were far more potent than the sweet, fruity taste let on. We were thrilled with our introduction to the region, thinking that we had quickly identified the ‘real’ Caribbean. However, over the following season we came to learn that this broad term doesn’t encompass the many nuanced differences between cultures in this part of the world.

Despite their similarities, there are no two islands that are truly alike in the Caribbean. Even the French islands that we visited – Martinique, Guadeloupe, St Barth and St Martin – shared only a common language and the same supermarkets; in many other respects they were very different. From Les Saintes we made our way to Guadeloupe and Deshaies, where it rained and the wind howled for days on end. We were going stir-crazy being stuck on board and eventually made a break for Antigua. Our punishment was enduring eight hours of being tossed around and feeling seasick before gratefully arriving in Falmouth Harbour.

Here we found many bars and restaurants of unusually high quality (the standard of food in restaurants in the Caribbean is generally not nearly as good as we’re used to in Europe, even on the French islands). We stuck around for the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, determined to get our hands on the famous ‘red hats’, given out only at the closing event. Tickets for the final event were a challenge to get hold of, but we dutifully spent several evenings bar-hopping and ingesting large quantities of rum in order to secure our entry to the party. After bypassing Nevis and St Kitts due to a rapidly-closing weather window, we spent several very rolly nights in St Barth’s notoriously uncomfortable Gustavia anchorage. I don’t normally ‘do’ rolly anchorages, but for St Barth I was willing to put up with a lot.

The town was extremely picturesque, and as quintessentially French as it’s possible to find in the Caribbean. We had fresh baguettes, cheap wine and fois gras daily, and enjoyed looking in all the upmarket shops. St Maarten was a necessary stop for us as we had decided to upgrade our tender and do some other boat maintenance. We had planned on a week there, but ended up staying for three; something we were warned about the very first morning on the daily radio net. “This place has a way of sucking you in!” Mike, the net controller, cheerfully informed us.

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