You can’t get much greener when travelling than a sailing ship, especially when cruising on a magnificent heads-turning tall ship. Sail and cruise ships, are we being serious here? This is a market that is virtually unknown amongst the cruising public, but after one trip it seems most of us are well and truly hooked. So much so that this is a sector of the market where some companies get almost 50% return bookings from their customers.
With their teak-lined decks and billowing white sails, luxurious amenities, gourmet cuisine, exceptional service and with less than 300 guests on board, these vessels allow you to soak up the ambiance of owning your own private yacht. The real beauty of cruising on a tall ship however is that because the vessels are smaller than conventional cruise liners, they can call into ports untouched by larger craft.
On some of them you can take a turn at the helm, learn how to navigate, how to set the sails and climb the rigging to the crow’s nest. This is part of the experience on board a sailing ship, and although most people want to get involved or try something out don’t panic, it isn’t compulsory. I climbed up the rigging when we visted St Lucia in the Winward Islands, and the view from there was something else.
A safety harness was provided and at all times my progress was monitored by a crew member with the safety line. What an experience though to look down on the deck below. We actually got a laminated sheet labelling each of the sails and the masts, so by the end of the week I impressed the crew by asking why the first three bowsprit sails were up but not the Fore-Topmast-Staysail!
I had joined Royal Clipper, a five star luxury sailing ship at Grenada on a five-day tour of the Grenadines in the eastern Caribbean. Royal Clipper holds the Guinness World Record for being the biggest five-masted ship in the world and is the 227-passenger flagship of Star Clippers. 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. 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.
The first night found me at the indoor-outdoor Tropical Bar near the stern, which was the place everybody met up each night and where the ice melted extremely quickly for all of us. The local steel band played away and with the sun setting over the colonial rooftops and fort of the old town, the ambience for the trip was well and truly set.
Next morning found me up early. To be on the deck of a cruise ship at sunrise is always a memorable occasion, what makes it an unforgettable experience here is when for those precious few minutes the early sun paints the sails on the ship with that marvellous orange light. Each morning Mario, the ship’s marine biologist held a dolphin watch session, you can watch as many wildlife programmes as you like, but it’s not until you see the ocean ‘boiling’ with them as they approach the ship to play that you start to appreciate these magnificent creatures.
Don’t worry you’re not leaving the comforts and safety of traditional cruising, the ships have engines and stabilisers, and they’re visiting places that are not going to be swamped by large numbers and at the same time are helping small, local communities.
If however, you don’t want to take part in the pulling ropes and scrubbing decks routine, then try the pampered and intimate luxury of these vessels. The companies offer trans oceanic, Mediterranean and Caribbean cruises and Panama Canal passages to cruise in Central America and are continually introducing new enhancements to their ships in the areas of dining, accommodation, entertainment, spa services, fitness and shore excursions. “Freestyle dining” and complementary water sports help make this trip one to remember.
For pure spectacle, it doesn’t come more eye-catching and indeed genuinely original than Star Clippers’ fleet of luxury tall ships. The company are renowned worldwide for their service and the experience they offer their passengers of comfortable, crewed sailing on traditional clipper ships. Guests can sail in the Caribbean, Central America and the Med and what could be more swish than sailing in to Monaco harbour to watch the Grand Prix from the deck whist sipping a gin and tonic?
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. To be at sea at night on a sailing ship is a wonder in itself, and that night I decided to join many of my fellow passengers by sleeping on the deck. Lying back on my sun lounger the riggers high up above me on the yard arms were adjusting the sails. Running along the spars they were silhouetted against the moonlit sky and for one brief, magical moment I was with Captain Cook in Tahiti.