WE ARE (REALLY) SAILING!
A tall ship experience is the way to go
IIMAGINE THIS IS HOW IT MUST FEEL AFTER YOU’VE WON THE LOTTERY AND CHARTERED YOUR OWN PRIVATE YACHT. I’M ON BOARD THE BIGGEST FIVEMASTED SHIP IN THE WORLD, THE SPV Royal Clipper, AND SAILING AROUND THE MEDITERRANEAN ALONG WITH 200 OTHER PASSENGERS FROM ACROSS THE WORLD. TECHNICALLY, I AM CRUISING, BUT THIS EXPERIENCE COULD NOT BE FURTHER REMOVED FROM ANY OTHER SHIP I’VE BEEN ON. FOR A START, THE Royal Clipper HAS 42 MAGNIFICENT SAILS AND IF SHE WAS HUMAN, YOU’D DESCRIBE HER AS AN ATTENTION-SEEKING SHOW-OFF. SHE REALLY IS A HEAD-TURNER ON THE WATER AND AN INSTAGRAMMER’S
DELIGHT WHEN IN PORT. The Champagne ‘sailaway’ from Venice at the start of a ten-day voyage to Rome via Croatia, Montenegro, the Greek Islands and Italy, was utterly magical. To the strains of Vangelis Conquest of Paradise
(it sounds kitsch but, trust me, it works) we inched out of one of the most romantic backdrops in the world – people literally stopped in their tracks to wave us off. When I do win the Lottery, by the way, I will be back just to relive that moment.
Whenever possible, the ship uses sail but in particularly calm conditions, the engines will kick in to make it to the next port. If you’re already a seasoned big-ship cruiser and enjoy being up close and personal with 6,000 other passengers, then you’ve boarded the wrong boat; Clipper cruising is a whole other world – intimate, traditional, compact, but well-designed cabins (you’re only in there to sleep), and an education in sailing.
The crew is wonderfully patient and more than happy to answer ignorant questions and actively encourages passengers to learn the ropes and understand what it takes to sail a ship of this magnitude. And two things you won’t get to do on more traditional cruise ships are clambering out to the bowsprit (a word I never knew before now) basically a net sticking out from the front (prow) of the ship. A session in there and you’ll know you’re at sea! And if heights aren’t a concern, do the mast climb (in a harness) and soak up the unparalleled views from the crow’s nest.
What I loved most, though, was chatting to my fellow 'sailors', a fabulous mix of North American, Japanese and European. They ranged from honeymooners to wedding anniversary celebrations, from veteran sailors to complete novices like me. A word of advice, though, Clipper sailing is not ideal for small children, so maybe call on the grandparents to have them while you rekindle the romance – trust me, there's no better setting for that.
The overall ambience on board is laid back and unpretentious – swimwear, shorts and T-shirts by day and casual dresses/trousers in the evening – no formal Captain’s cocktail party to pack for, which is a blessing. Dinner is delightfully casual, too – just turn up between 7.30-10pm and sit wherever you like, although the maître d’ takes great pleasure in matchmaking diners. The menu is extensive and caters for every taste and wine starts from a reasonable 21€.
There are three pools, but their primary purpose is for cooling off – the largest will barely take you five strokes from end to end. Dedicated swimmers will just have to wait until the next port which, on our trip, was never more than a day away. What is great fun, though, is swimming from the ship itself (obviously when it's not moving!) and trying your hand at sailing, paddleboarding or lounging about on one of the tethered lilos. Pure bliss.
By the time we reached Rome, ten days later, I was seriously considering becoming a stowaway. I loved the entire experience and now I’m just waiting for that winning Lottery ticket to come good, so that I can book for a winter trip to the Caribbean.
‘There's no better setting to rekindle the romance in your relationship’
FROM BOWSPRIT TO DINING ROOM, IT’S ELEGANCE ALL THE WAY