Phuket – Ko Adang – Penang – Ko Butang – Ko Rok Nok – Ao Phang Nga – Ko Similan
And suddenly I spotted it. Majestically anchored out beyond Patong Bay, its three masts proud and statuesque, my heart billowed outwards with the sails in anticipation of embarkation and departure on an adventure across the Andaman Sea!
Our Star Clipper, and what a joy it was to step on the tender, crossing the waters between the moored boats, journeying away from the noise, colours and intoxicating aromas of the procession of street food-sellers, massage parlours and open-air market stalls. We boarded the tall ship in the warm evening air, and were greeted by charming staff, not with handshakes, or the loathsome English air kiss, but the traditional lotus flower prayer gesture. With hands clasped together, bending slightly forward at the waist, this dignified salutation was an elegant introduction to our time under canvas. Our journey had begun.
The sun diminished beneath the horizon, the anchor was raised, and to the strains of Vangelis we departed for our first sail-away. The 130 guests watched in total admiration as Captain Sergey Tunikov, a consummate professional with nearly 30 years at sea (12 with Star Clipper), commanded his crew of able seamen, darting back and forth across the deck with the speed and agility of a man in his twenties. With total control and authority, he oversaw the hoisting of the sails; the big ship’s wheel spun around and around as the wind caught, and we sailed southwards into the night.
Captain Sergey is a charismatic and elegant man, with his own loyal following of guests, who will only book if he is their captain. And not only is he a master of his ship (and the dance floor as we later found out), he is a master of Tai Chi and karate (higher than black belt) and demonstrated his prowess with the intricate twirling of Nunchucks. Watch out, Bruce Lee!
Star Clipper itself has its own loyal following; the guests on board spanned 19 nationalities, with over 70 attending the ‘returners’ drinks party. One lady has booked no fewer than 186 cruises, and we learnt that there are over 100 guests who have returned for more than 100 cruises. One couple always book cabin 116 – apparently the one which has the least movement on board the ship!
Wherever they are located, the cabins are delightful. Within the tasteful brass and mahogany nautical-inspired décor (which is prevalent across the ship), the lull of the waves and soft plash of the sea around us was a magical backdrop to slip into slumber and awaken to the subsequent morning.
Life under sail quickly takes on its own rhythm. With a plentiful choice of activities, excursions on land, talks, sunbathing decks and pools, delicious meals and the conversation of fellow travellers, we were spoilt for choice, but with the complete freedom to plan our days as we desired.
For those who wish to learn more, Peter Kissner (the Cruise Director) has been with the company for 23 years and hosted a fascinating daily series of stories and talks on all aspects of his life at sea. Hugely knowledgeable, he is passionate about his work, and spends his free time amongst local people and fishermen, scouting new areas for future cruises. It was a daily highlight to hear his talks about the tsunami, slavery at sea and seasickness, as well as valuable insights into the lives of local people, including the Moken people, or the gypsies of the Andaman Sea, who spend 9 months of each year living on boats.
When not on board, options were available for every interest, from jungle trekking and visits to local villages, to snorkelling in pristine waters with aqueous wonders to gaze upon. The three handsome and tanned young men in the water sports team were not just easy on the eye, but provided a range of daily activities, including: paddleboarding, dinghy sailing and wind-surfing. Their training and service were put to the test on the second day when one gentleman, who went a little too far out of his depth whilst snorkelling, called out in panic. Within seconds, the Zodiac flew along the coast, and he was rescued and reassured.
The food was excellent and varied. Produced in a galley the size of a small domestic kitchen, it truly is a miracle! Amongst many highlights, the roast turkey with full trimmings, followed by blackberry crumble and custard, eaten in the sunshine outside on the deck in a lunchtime buffet, brought a whole new meaning to the expression “comfort food”.
Part of the attraction of Star Clipper for many is that there is not a stream of glitzy West End theatre shows in an air-conditioned theatre. Entertainment takes place each night outdoors on the tropical bar deck, and is deliberately low-key. On the final night, a group of local traditional Thai dancers transfixed the audiences, accompanied by resident entertainer Jerby, a young and extremely talented Philippine singer and musician. We were even treated to the energetic Cossack dancing of Captain Sergey himself!
The final morning came too soon. We bid the wonderful staff farewell, and returned once more to Patong Bay, with knowledge, new friends and memories for a lifetime. Also, a newfound respect for the sea, and the tradition of sailing, which is kept alive upon this marvellous swan-like vessel.