Travel (10)

Tall ship sailing from Malaga to the Canaries

D. Passengers relax in bowsprit nettingLast month we began describing a cruise on the tall ship Star Flyer from Malaga, Spain to Grand Canary island in the Atlantic.  This month we will discuss climbing the mast, the food on board, ship’s tours, and a minor accident that affected the ship’s schedule.

Climbing the mast was popular with many passengers, including some in their 70s and 80s. This involved putting on a harness with a safety line, and climbing up the windward ratlines on the foremast, as high as the foretop, about 38 feet above the deck.  


Filling the bucket list with a romantic tall ship

5. Horseman at Royal Equestrian SchoolFor years a major item on our “dream trip bucket list” has been a voyage to the romantic island groups scattered across the eastern North Atlantic.  A cruise from Malaga in Spain in October 2014 aboard the tall sailing cruise ship Star Flyer filled part of the bill.  Scheduled ports were Malaga, Tangier, Cadiz, Funchal (Madiera), and Las Palmas (Grand Canary).   


The end of the world is upon us thanks to Lew!

1. LT and Chief at muralMany travelers have heard about the so-called John Frum cargo cult tribe in Vanuatu, which supposedly believes that a huge American soldier named John Frum is coming soon to save them.  Wrong, wrong and kinda wrong.

As usual, you have to come to “Travel Tales” to get the real truth.  Unfortunately, the bad news is that these may be the last words you ever read.


From Rockville to Bladensburg by gunshot

battle of bladensburgOne hundred and fifty years ago this July, President Lincoln, standing on a parapet at Fort Stevens, was ordered to take cover from Confederate fire. He had traveled north six miles to observe General Horatio Wright’s defense of the Nation’s Capital from Jubal A. Early’s Confederate army.

 More remarkable than this was the fact that it wasn't the first time a U.S President had come under enemy fire during a battle. Fifty years before the Yankees discouraged Early from advancing on Washington during the Civil War, another U.S President found himself in dire straits.


Looking that free cruise gift horse in an ugly mouth



800px-MSMajestyOfTheSeasEdit1There is a famous saying that you “shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” meaning you shouldn’t check the free horse’s age and condition by looking at its teeth.

When it comes to cruising, however, that isn’t always true.

Consider the case of Caribbean Cruise Line, which offers free or low-cost two-day cruises from Florida to the Bahamas on the ex-Baltic ferry Bahamas Celebration. (By the way, this cruise line is not connected with the well-known Royal Caribbean International.) Marylanders visiting Florida might be tempted by offers from this line.

These offers come to potential passengers via phone solicitations, mobile phone texts and mass mailings across the US and Canada. The offers usually promise a “free two-night cruise for two” from Palm Beach to Grand Bahama Island, with a great time for first-time and budget cruise travelers.

But “free” doesn’t really mean “free.” And a great time isn’t always that great.

First, there are other certain or potential charges: $59 per person for government taxes and fees (nonrefundable), a $25-per-person administration fee, a reported gratuity fee of $10 per person per day, $25 per bag for excess or overweight luggage, a parking fee and (my favorite) a $12-per-person-per-day fee for fuel oil, if the cost of a “light sweet” barrel of crude oil exceeds $40. According to, the last time the price of oil was that low was in 2004 — 10 years ago!

Second, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has given Caribbean Cruise Line (CCL) an “F” grade, on a scale of A+ to F, citing six reasons including “business has failed to resolve underlying causes of a pattern of complaints” and “1418 complaints filed against the company.”

The BBB complaints for CCL cover 267 pages! Typical complaints include a respondent on 6 February 2014 who stated, “I have been receiving calls in the middle of the night for months” from the cruise line and “they refuse to stop.”

Another respondent said on 23 December 2013 that she paid for the extended-stay package upgrade but was unable to go. The line initially refused to give back the money but eventually gave back only a portion, which did not satisfy the customer. Complaints on the BBB site and at also indicate that phone solicitors may try to “upsell” customers to higher-price cabins without revealing the full facts or new price.

To be fair to the company, it does seem to clear BBB complaints, often giving back some or all of the funds involved after the respondent files a formal BBB complaint.

Third, there is the schedule. According to the website, the ship departs every other day from Palm Beach, sailing at 6 p.m., arriving at 8 a.m. in the Bahamas “for a full day of fun activities” and then departing that same day at 6 p.m. for arrival back in Palm Beach at 7 a.m. the next day. In other words, you will be asleep most of the time during your “two-day cruise,” unless you are a night owl and stay up all night.

The ship holds 1,250 passengers in 502 cabins, many of which are rather small inside cabins. This is typical of a vessel built in 1981, quite old for a cruise ship.

Fourth, there is the question of ownership. Although Caribbean Cruise Line of 2419 East Commercial Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL, states on its website ( that their "flagship” is the Bahamas Celebration, in fact the vessel is owned by a different entity, namely Celebration Cruise Operator (, according to clause 36 of the eight page cruise contract and ticket, a copy of which I obtained and analyzed.

Why does this matter? Because most of the consumer complaints are directed at Caribbean Cruise Line, which solicits the potential passengers. The Celebration entity apparently claims that the two companies (Celebration and Caribbean) are completely separate and that the Caribbean entity is a “wholesaler” which has nothing to do with the ship operator.

If that is true, isn’t it interesting that the Celebration entity just happens to be located at the same street address as the Caribbean company. Hmmm. . . .

Fifth, there is the timeshare connection. On, the complainant “spoo k” of Emeryville, California, gave the line “negative stars” and stated that she was pestered by unwanted calls three or four times per day for a month. The solicitors were trying to get her to pay for the “free” cruise, which actually had charges totaling $977, and were attempting to get her credit card number. This, even though the respondent told the solicitors that she had little money and could not afford the cruise and that she “had had cancer and had lots of medical bills” to pay.

So why would phone solicitors pester people, even sick, poor people, in order to give away a free product? Because, according to an anonymous BBB complainant on 7 December 2013, complainant “Kaaren D” on Yelp, and other sources, the entire enterprise is really about pushing timeshare presentations. The BBB complainant stated that “the original solicitation” said “nothing about a timeshare” but that later a timeshare tour and presentation were insisted upon as a condition of getting the “free” cruise. Kaaren D stated that the timeshare presentation was promised to be 60 to 90 minutes but in reality was four hours long, plus about an hour of travel time away from the port.

Still keen to go? You may wish to carefully read the 8-page, small-type “cruise ticket contract,” which states clearly that it is a contract between the cruise line and the passenger and that it “supersedes all … representations … contained in carrier’s advertisements… [or] brochures….”

This contract (clause 4) provides “no undertaking or warranty” of the “seaworthiness of the vessel.”

Also under this clause, “all arrangements made” for the passengers for “shoreside excursions, transportation or activities” are at the “passenger’s risk… even if the Carrier” is “entitled to charge a fee and earn a profit” on such services. Thus, apparently, the Celebration entity can earn a fee on extensions and excursions sold by the Caribbean entity, but Celebration is not liable if the activity is canceled or goes wrong. And all medical personnel on board are “independent contractors,” and the Carrier is not liable for their errors or any malpractice. 

On, Gregory W. of New York City was very negative about the cruise line. He stated, “I was called, even though my number is on the ‘do not call’ lists… they wanted my credit card [number] so they could charge me for the port charges.” Gregory told the supervisory phone solicitor that the cruise line had a poor rating by the Better Business Bureau, and “The supervisor immediately hung up on me.”
If you don’t want to hang up on this cruise line, and still want to go, the number for Caribbean Cruise Line is 800/221-8200 and the number for Celebration Cruise Line is 800/314-7735. Good luck!

Lew Toulmin has sailed on cruise ships and tall ships on every ocean. He lives in Silver Spring, Fairhope, Alabama, and Port Vila, Vanuatu.




In search of . . . a most obnoxious ancestor

Last month I described how I found out that I had an ancestor, Brigadier General Andrew Williamson of the South Carolina Militia during the American Revolution, and how he had turned traitor and joined the British. He was even officially listed as an “obnoxious person” by the South Carolina rebel legislature, and all his property was ordered confiscated. This month I will describe his convoluted and bizarre life story, and how he came to be known as the “Benedict Arnold of South Carolina.”
My research into his life began when I was looking up someone else in the Dictionary of National Biography. I thought of Williamson and looked him up too. I was surprised to find a short little entry for someone who seemed quite important and notorious. I started doing my own research, and this is the strange story I pieced together.
Andrew Williamson was born in Scotland, parents unknown, about 1730. He apparently came to America as a youth and settled in upstate South Carolina, as one of the first whites in an area known as the Ninety Six district, which was right on the edge of Indian territory. He started off as a lowly “cattle driver”— an Eastern cowboy – driving cattle as far north as Philadelphia! He was illiterate as a youth and all his life.
He fought the Indians and came to hate them, when an Indian band almost killed him and his family. Despite his illiteracy, he rose in his community, built and supplied several forts, acquired a major plantation and hundreds of acres of land, was elected twice to the South Carolina legislature, and was commissioned as a Major in the South Carolina militia. He was an early supporter of breaking away from British rule, probably because he realized that his isolated part of the state was never going to get any real assistance from London, thousands of miles away. He was a rebel in the kitchen also, since his few letters, apparently written by aides, showed that he was partial to rattlesnake!
When the Revolution began, Williamson was the leader in the first major battle in South Carolina. He fought off a much stronger force of Loyalists, Indians and British troops who besieged his position, known as “Williamson’s Fort.” He had made the mistake of not including a spring or stream inside the walls, but with great initiative he ordered his men to dig down through forty feet of clay, and he states that, “we got very good Water on the third day of digging.”
In his next major action, in 1776 Williamson led a large expedition of 1500 men against the Indian villages of South and North Carolina. The Indians, at the behest of the British, had started the conflict by attacking settlements from Georgia to Virginia. Williamson was so ruthless in burning over 60 villages, that the Indians were never again a force in South Carolina. About 2000 Indian warriors were killed, compared to only about 50 Patriots. Williamson was promoted to Colonel and given the official thanks of the state legislature. Even his Indian enemies grudgingly respected him. One Indian leader, named “Mankiller,” gave Williamson the name “Warrior Beloved Man” because Williamson was so beloved by his men.
The rest of the war did not go so well for Williamson, even though he was promoted to Brigadier General. He fought in several less successful campaigns, including a disastrous invasion of Florida. By June 1780 it appeared that the British had won the war in the South. They had just captured Charleston and 3000 American troops, perhaps the greatest Patriot defeat of the war. Virtually every American leader in South Carolina threw in the towel. So did Williamson, who renounced the Patriot cause, and gave his word and solemn oath to support the British crown.
However, within a few months the tide of war changed and the Americans started winning battles, while British blunders alienated most of the population. All the Americans who had changed sides switched back. All except one, who decided to honor his oath: Andrew Williamson. For this honorable act he was reviled for the rest of his life.
Almost immediately Williamson was captured by the Americans, who tried to “cajole” him with “soothing and threatening arguments” into breaking his word. But Williamson behaved like a “man of character and honor” (according to the British) and refused. He managed to escape back to his British protectors, and moved to a safer plantation near Charleston. Incredibly, he was kidnapped again by the Americans, and this time the British sent a large force in pursuit. They re-captured Williamson. Then, in one of the most infamous episodes of the war, they hung the American officer, Col. Isaac Hayne, who had captured Williamson.
Williamson stayed in the Charleston area for the rest of the war, and was declared an “obnoxious person” by the South Carolina rebel legislature (which had thanked him profusely just a few years earlier). At the end of the war the successful Patriots were going to strip him of all his property and exile him. But surprise, surprise, Williamson spoke before the legislature and announced that for the last year of the war he had been spying for the Americans, while inside the British headquarters at Charleston! American General Nathanael Greene confirmed that “Williamson was my best agent” and “took every risque” to help the Patriot cause.
This makes Andrew Williamson the first major double agent in American history, and the highest ranking American double agent in the Revolution! Amazingly, no standard history of espionage in the Revolution mentions him.
Ironically, Williamson’s day-to-day “agent handler” was none other than Col. John Laurens, the American hero who I mistakenly thought was my ancestor.
Williamson’s methods as a spy were innovative. One of his ways of communicating with his American spymasters was to pass notes to an innocent-looking child and her mother who were visiting the city from outside the British lines. The child would later be taken to General Greene, and would reluctantly give up the little “gift” she had received. Essentially he used a child as a “dead drop”! He passed information on British intentions, the possibility that Loyalists would burn the entire city rather than let it be captured, the number of British sick and wounded, and other vital matters. When the British decided to abandon Charleston, he became an “agent of influence” and a sort of subtle negotiator between the two sides, successfully ensuring that the handover of Charleston was peaceful.
As his thanks for risking his life, the South Carolina legislature decided to “amerce” (seize) only 12 percent of his wealth, instead of the 100 percent they had been originally contemplating! So he was effectively judged to be 12 percent a traitor.
Andrew Williamson died in his Charleston townhouse shortly after the war, reviled by his many enemies but adored by his soldiers and his many friends. What an amazing ancestor to have in my family tree! Is genealogy cool or what?
I found Williamson’s life so fascinating that I wrote the first and only biography of him, and published it in The Journal of Backcountry Studies, a peer-reviewed historical journal. Now others can learn about this amazing man and his bizarre life, and the incomplete history of espionage in the Revolution can be corrected.
Next month I will describe how I went on a quest to find Williamson’s famous upcountry plantation, which has been lost in the mists of time.

* * *
Lew Toulmin lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, Fairhope, Alabama and Port Vila, Vanuatu, and is an amateur archaeologist, semi-pro genealogist, and member of the Society of the Cincinnati and numerous other historical and lineage societies.

Subscribe to this RSS feed