Steve’s Sojourns; Sailing the Caribbean on a Clipper
To be on the deck of a cruise ship at sunrise is always a memorable occasion. What makes it an unforgettable experience is when for those precious few minutes the early sun paints the sails on the ship with a marvellous orange light and you lean over the bow watching the dolphins riding the wave.
Star Clippers are renowned worldwide for their service and the experience they offer their passengers of comfortable, crewed sailing on traditional clipper ships, built to uncompromising yacht safety, with the elegant surroundings of a private yacht of a bygone age. At the present time the company has three ships in their fleet and all are modern, high-tech, re-creations of the classic clipper sailing ships that dominated the oceans of the world in the 19th century.
To me however the real beauty of these ships is that because the vessels are smaller than conventional cruise ships, they can call into ports untouched by larger craft. This was certainly true of our trip on Royal Clipper around The Windward Islands where we dropped anchor in tiny inlets to spend time snorkelling or lying on the empty beaches of isolated islands such as the Tobago Cays and the coast of Martinique.
Royal Clipper holds the Guinness World Record as being the biggest five-masted ship in the world and is the 227-passenger flagship of the Star Clippers fleet. (The two smaller ships, Star Flyer and Star Clipper, take 170 passengers each, with a crew of 70, while Royal Clipper carries 227 with a crew of 106.) The fact that the passenger count is so small compared to the thousands found on bigger ships means that you really do get to know your fellow travellers and the two minutes it takes to walk around the ship along its elegant corridors and up and down the Edwardian style staircases means you can’t fail to meet and talk to everyone else.
There’s an indoor-outdoor Tropical Bar near the stern which was the place everybody met up and where the ice melted extremely quickly for all of us, an elegant Piano Lounge, a library and a watersports platform at the stern that was lowered when the ship was at anchor and from where we canoed, dived and swam in the Caribbean or went water ski-ing or windsurfing. There was also an underwater Spa and Lounge, offering hairdressing, massage and beauty treatments in rooms with underwater portholes.
However the real difference that makes Star Clippers such a unique experience is that you are not just a passenger but you have the opportunity should you so wish to become part of the crew and indeed get under the skin of these magnificent vessels. In my short time on board I helped the crew put up the sails, learned various knots, watched as the captain talked us through turning her through 360 degrees, held the wheel, learned about navigation and even helped swab down the decks on one occasion!
There may not be any of the glamorous organised entertainment found on the bigger ships but to be honest you don’t miss it at all. If you don’t want to socialise you have the chance to find secluded areas to sit, read and chat or even sleep on deck at nights if you wish. Some evenings we went to the talks given by Mariano the ships marine biologist on topics ranging from the turtles we could see to the type of shells we would encounter. His walks on the beaches and snorkelling tours were simply amazing as were the dolphin and whale watching sessions.
So is there one abiding memory of my time on this amazing cruise that stands out in my mind? Well it has to be the time when on each cruise the ship sets sail and makes her way majestically to her next poet accompanied by the two tenders which allow you to photograph this magnificent spectacle from the sea. There in that brief half an hour you can truly imagine what it must have been like in the days when these magnificent vessels ruled the shipping lanes.
So if you feel you would like to try something different and something so individual the memory will stay with you for ever then why not give this type of cruising a try. It may not be your cup of tea but I would be surprised if you didn’t want to come back for more.
Dining aboard Star Clippers is something of an experience itself. The chefs create themed menus, according to the areas the ships are cruising and vary the menus using local fish and produce where possible.
The food starts early at 6 a.m. with coffee and croissants available so that you could go on deck and watch the dolphins in style! The company has an open seating policy enabling you to sit where you like and with who you like. Breakfast was a revelation to me as you could help yourself to a continental breakfast with croissants, toasted muffins, sweet pastries or savour a full breakfast with fresh tropical fruits and crispy bacon, grilled sausage, smoked salmon and even your own choice of omelettes cooked to order!
The old world ambience of the dining room complemented the marvellous lunch buffet of seafood, salads and grilled favourites but if the day includes a stop at one of the uninhabited islands the ships frequent, you can be treated to a succulent outdoor barbecue in the shade of palm trees lining the shore.