SET­TING SAIL WITH SEA CLOUD

Board a tra­di­tional wind­jam­mer to dis­cover the his­tor­i­cal life-at-sea of Por­tuguese ex­plor­ers

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We watch trans­fixed as a nau­ti­cal bal­let takes place in the rig­ging above our heads. It’s not un­like a per­for­mance by Cirque du Soleil’s aeri­al­ists, but we are in no big top, nor Las Ve­gas. We are on board the most beau­ti­ful sail­ing ship in the world some­where off the coast of Spain.

We are un­der­way on an eight-day voy­age sail­ing in the wake of the an­cients from Barcelona to Porto. Factor in Spain’s se­duc­tive An­dalu­sian cities, the heart-throb­bing rhythms of fla­menco, the soul­ful singing of Por­tu­gal’s fado, fab­u­lous gourmet fare on board and tasty tapas ashore, and this semi­cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the Ibe­rian Penin­sula de­liv­ers a near-per­fect itin­er­ary.

Our voy­age is Barcelona, Ibiza, Málaga, Cádiz (Jerez de la Fron­tera), Lis­bon to Porto. Whether you are a foodie, a fash­ion­ista or purely a tall-ship devo­tee, Sea Cloud Cruises and its en­thralling ports of call de­liver ex­pe­ri­ences of a life­time. The heiress and her yacht Three-thou­sand square me­tres of sail cloth burst into bloom and Sea Cloud II skims across the wa­ter like a drag­on­fly. This rit­ual hap­pens sev­eral times daily, dic­tated by weather con­di­tions or nav­i­ga­tional needs. The rou­tine is the same whether on the orig­i­nal Sea Cloud or Sea Cloud II. Ev­ery ma­noeu­vre is per­formed in the tra­di­tional way: by hand, not au­to­ma­tion.

The Sea Cloud story is a com­pelling one. The orig­i­nal Sea Cloud – still sail­ing to this day – was built in 1931 by Mar­jorie Mer­ri­weather Post, a New York so­cialite and heiress to the Post ce­real for­tune. An­other of her tro­phies was Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. The sprawl­ing es­tate was pur­chased by Don­ald Trump, em­bel­lished and con­verted into a pri­vate club. It is now re­ferred to as the Win­ter White house.

But life on board Sea Cloud II is re­ward enough for us and her fel­low guests, who are mostly so­phis­ti­cated

Eu­ro­pean cou­ples, North Amer­i­cans and a scat­ter­ing of An­tipodeans. The pre­dom­i­nant lan­guage is Ger­man (the com­pany is based in Ham­burg), but ev­ery­one speaks English and the crew is in­ter­na­tional. All guests share one thing in com­mon: a love of sail­ing cou­pled with re­fine­ment. Who could have imag­ined gold fit­tings, mar­ble fire­places, or­nate ceil­ings, de­tailed wood pan­elling, gleam­ing brass, plump up­hol­stered fur­nish­ings or, had you opted for an owner’s suite, even a four-post bed on a sailboat? She has 47 cab­ins, 16 ju­nior suites and two owner’s suites, all in taste­ful 1920s retro-style decor. The yacht ac­com­mo­dates 94 guests and an ex­pert, at­ten­tive crew of 60. The din­ing room is open seat­ing in a har­mo­nious, low-key en­vi­ron­ment with su­perb ta­ble set­tings; the qual­ity and fresh­ness of the food is fault­less and fas­tid­i­ously served.

Rhythms of Ibe­ria

In Málaga, we choose to me­an­der through the old quar­ter, which de­liv­ers a heady mix of Moor­ish and Western architecture, ram­bling streets lined with tapas bars, fla­menco posters, the strum of gui­tars and the Pi­casso Mu­seum.

Through the Straits of Gi­bral­tar, Cádiz awaits. In Jerez de la Fron­tera we taste 45-year-old Amon­til­lado and Oloroso at Bode­gas Tradi­ción, and are stunned by the owner’s pri­vate col­lec­tion of Goya, Velázquez and Zur­barán, wor­thy of Madrid’s Prado.

In Lis­bon, heel-stomp­ing fla­menco sur­ren­ders to soul­ful fado. Façades of Por­tu­gal’s tra­di­tional blue-and-white

azule­jos (tiles) de­light us at ev­ery turn. It doesn’t take long be­fore we are ut­terly charmed by the city’s slightly faded el­e­gance as we pe­ruse Art Nou­veau and Art Deco shopfronts, savour custard tarts and take a vintage tram ride.

Back on board, we sa­lute the in­trepid Por­tuguese nav­i­ga­tors as we sail past their mon­u­ment bound for Porto, an ex­plo­ration of this fa­mous city and its great­est gift to the world: port.

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