Mediter­ranean cruise Ro­man­tic, lux­u­ri­ous, cap­ti­vat­ing – that’s the high life on the high seas

The Herald Magazine - - etc TRAVEL - SU­SAN NICKALLS

THE lights of Malaga twin­kle on ei­ther side of the ship as we pass La Farola light­house, the large white sen­tinel on the har­bour prom­e­nade, while a full moon shim­mers in the inky black­ness above us. I’m stand­ing with the other pas­sen­gers on the deck of the Royal Clip­per, the only five-masted full-rigged sail­ing ship in the world. Prim­i­tive drum­beats and chants from the Van­ge­lis theme to Ri­d­ley Scott’s film about Christo­pher Colum­bus, 1492: Con­quest of Par­adise, are blast­ing out of the speak­ers.

Then one by one, the 42 white sails of the tall ship are un­furled and bathed in a vi­o­let light. It is a mag­nif­i­cent and stir­ring sight. Al­though this dra­matic rit­ual is en­acted ev­ery time we leave port on this week-long cruise, for me it never loses its magic. As the wind catches the sails, I can re­late to the ex­cite­ment that ex­plor­ers like Colum­bus must have ex­pe­ri­enced as they set out over the hori­zon.

We’ll be vis­it­ing the Balearic Is­lands of Ibiza, Ma­jorca and Menorca, with two stops in Cor­sica be­fore ar­riv­ing in Cannes. As the name sug­gests, the Royal Clip­per is mod­elled on the 19th-cen­tury ves­sels that “clipped” the waves at great speed as they trans­ported goods from one con­ti­nent to an­other. I’m sur­prised at how smoothly she moves through the wa­ter un­der sail at speeds of around 11 knots. Mikael Krafft built it for his Star Clip­per line, tak­ing de­sign in­spi­ra­tion from the Preussen, a Ger­man steel-hulled five-masted full-rigged wind­jam­mer.

It was built in 1902 but lost af­ter a col­li­sion in 1910. So there was no other ship of its type sail­ing the oceans un­til Krafft launched his Royal Clip­per in 2000. As one of the 227 pas­sen­gers and 106 crew on board, my spa­cious cabin with en­suite shower is more lux­u­ri­ous than con­di­tions on the orig­i­nal clip­per, and the large din­ing room with its in­ter­na­tional cui­sine is a far cry from the sailors’ mess and ra­tions.

“Is this your first time?” is usu­ally the open­ing salvo over din­ner. There are two other tall ships in Krafft’s fleet, Star Clip­per and Star Flyer, and there’s an un­spo­ken com­pe­ti­tion among guests as to who has notched up the most trips. At a drinks re­cep­tion for re­peaters, I’m sur­prised to find that well over half of the pas­sen­gers are there. Star Clip­pers bucks the cruis­ing trend in that its re­peat rate is 60 per cent com­pared with 20-30% for other com­pa­nies. Then the con­ver­sa­tion moves on to des­ti­na­tions; Star Clip­pers cruise the Caribbean, the Mediter­ranean, south-east Asia and the Panama Canal. But I no­ticed that the ocean-cross­ing guests got the most re­spect. Sev­eral peo­ple al­ready on board had ar­rived in Malaga af­ter a stormy cross­ing of the At­lantic, only to be told that ap­par­ently the best di­rec­tion to travel is from east to west.

Af­ter just a few hours on the Royal Clip­per, I’m cap­ti­vated by this in­cred­i­ble ship; the rhyth­mic surge of the ocean, the wide hori­zons and star­lit skies. Spend­ing the first two nights at sea gave us the chance to set­tle into a rou­tine. Ex­er­cises first thing fol­lowed by break­fast and then “walk a mile with a smile”. Zigzag­ging up and down stairs be­tween the dif­fer­ent decks for 20 min­utes ev­ery day helped me get my bear­ings as well as walk off the chef’s ir­re­sistible pud­dings. The cap­tain also ar­ranged for us to go out in the ten­ders so we could take pic­tures of the Royal Clip­per in full sail from the sea.

And for those with a head for heights, there was a chance to climb one of the

197ft masts. Ini­tially daunted by the prospect of clam­ber­ing up a rope lad­der to a plat­form nearly 50ft above the deck, I watched a 70-year-old woman shin up and de­cided if she could do it, so could I. It was worth it. The views were stun­ning. Af­ter that, bask­ing in the nets ei­ther side of the bowsprit in the late af­ter­noon sun, the waves foam­ing and crash­ing be­neath me, was a dod­dle.

And there’s noth­ing to beat ar­riv­ing in a place by sea. In Ibiza the ship docked be­low the me­dieval walled city and Unesco world her­itage site, Dalt Vila, perched on a rocky promon­tory. In a mat­ter of min­utes we were ex­plor­ing the nar­row streets with their white­washed build­ings. These for­mer fish­er­men’s houses have been trans­formed into bustling bou­tiques, restau­rants and bars, with most still caught in a 1960s hippy time­warp. There was a more cos­mopoli­tan

Pas­sen­gers have the chance to climb one of the 197ft masts on the Royal Clip­per, be­low

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