A thrilling seafaring adventure sailing across the Atlantic on Star Clippers
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stepped onto the teak deck warmed by the Barbadian sun to order my first
cocktail of the cruise, the speciality of the day that was flagged up on a
board in the al fresco bar. The resulting Bon Voyage, made with blue curacao,
was perfectly matched to the unbroken azure canvas of surrounding sea and sky,
but it was also a very fitting sundowner in more ways than one.
us a giant ship carrying thousands of passengers was also preparing to set
sail, probably heading on the short hop from Bridgetown to one of the
neighbouring Caribbean islands such as St Vincent or St Lucia. In complete
contrast I was travelling with just 108 fellow shipmates and as I raised my
glass to the handful already gathered by Royal Clipper’s bar we wished each
other luck and toasted an altogether more epic sailing - at that moment 11
nights at sea on a tall ship.
yearly the largest ship of its kind and flagship of the Star Clippers’ fleet,
along with its smaller sister ship Star Flyer, embark on repositioning cruises
between winter and summer destinations, offering seafaring expeditions like no
other which also elicit divisive Marmite-style opinions. Friends veered between the
extremes of utter horror and mutterings of sea biscuits, scurvy and seasickness
or unbridled woo-hoo enthusiasm and asking if there was room for stowaways when
I told them what I’d signed up for. There was no middle ground.
on board many of my new seafaring companions related similar tales. Quite a few
were sailing solo as their spouses and partners couldn’t stomach the prospect.
Many were sailors of some kind, having variously owned or crewed yachts. One
Norwegian even owned his own cargo shipping line. For others it was a bucket
list dream to cross the Atlantic, including a Canadian couple who’d never
previously set foot on a cruise ship. What we all shared in common was the
desire to do something different and that’s certainly what we did.
up to 227 passengers Royal Clipper is a head-turning sight, and never more so
than when the first of the 42 sails covering a combined area of nearly 56,000
square feet are unfurled for the first time and the ship slides out of port to
the rousing sound of Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis. Maybe it was the salty
breeze, but I saw quite a few burly men brush what looked like a tear from
their eyes as we set sail under the billowing canvas stretching 200ft above our
heads and we set forth on our 3,131 nautical mile crossing.
out on deck early the following morning were rewarded with the sight of a
shimmering shoals of flying fish alongside the vessel, spreading their pectoral
fins to use as wings. On other days there were sightings of dolphin pods and,
most memorably, another afternoon when Captain Mariusz Szalek suddenly
announced from the bridge: “Whales on the port side”. Fleet-footed passengers
were rewarded with the incredible sight of a breaching female whale, her calf
night the daily programme left in our cabins outlined the following day’s
activities, including quizzes, games, exercise sessions, a fashion show and
talent night - both with the option for passenger participation - culinary
classes and even a messy ‘christening’ ceremony performed by ‘King Neptune’ for
those on their first transatlantic crossing.
the ship is fully crewed, nautical pursuits also play a large part in the
programme and really add to the authentic experience. There were insightful
talks by the officers on navigation and oceanology, a star gazing session, knot
tying, documentaries on historic ships and even the chance to climb the mast to
the first crow’s nest 50ft above deck.
poignantly, at 6pm daily passengers could gather on the aft deck and join a
rendition of Salve Regina. The ancient sung prayer to the Virgin Mary is
mentioned in many ship’s logs, including those of Columbus, both marking the
end of the day and providing solace to seamen on voyages around the world.
We certainly didn’t lack any home comforts on the ship decked out in varnished wood and brass. There’s a cosy library, lounge with a white grand piano, lovely restaurant reached by a winding staircase and even a below sea level spa with portholes looking into the ocean.
said, it did turn into an adventure on the high seas when we hit a force 8
storm with 15ft swells. Royal Clipper listed 10 degrees
from port to starboard, crockery and the occasional passenger went flying and
waiters started to hand out cutlery and rather than set tables and, one night,
served wine in plastic glasses. In bed we rolled from side to side,
synchronised with ship’s motion and eventually rocked to sleep like babies;
even more so with the ‘cot’ sides that can be pulled up when the going gets
is what many had hoped to experience and at breakfast we swapped tales of
things that go bump in the night. A few headed to the on board doctor for
industrial strength seasickness pills that soon had them shipshape.
Szalek skirted the worst of the weather but was forced to abandon our only
scheduled port of call in the Azores, so we sailed non-stop to Lisbon using a
combination of sail and engine power. It was a reminder, if one was really
needed, that we were in the hands of Mother Nature, which for most of us added
to the thrill of being on a 449ft ship in a vast ocean.
course calm always follows a storm and the following evening I stayed up on
deck to watch as the clouds became edged in pink and set the scene for another
sunset. It was a sight I never tired of.
16 days we entered the Tagus River and passed the towering Monument of
Discoveries on the edge of the Tagus River, which pays homage to Portugal’s
great explorers. It was an apt marker at the end of our epic modern-day voyage
of discovery on a magnificent ship that recreates the golden era of sailing.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends
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