Cruis­ing the tra­di­tional way


Ac­cord­ing to the Ber­litz Cruise Guide, Sea Cloud is “the most beau­ti­ful cruise-sail ship in the world… and one of the world’s best travel ex­pe­ri­ences.”

It was there­fore with great an­tic­i­pa­tion that we boarded this his­toric wind­jam­mer at the Bar­ba­dos Cruise ter­mi­nal. It was docked next to sev­eral huge cruise ships and looked like it came from an­other era. Ac­tu­ally, it does.

Sea Cloud, 110 me­tres long, was built in Ger­many in 1931, a gift from U.S. fi­nancier Ed­ward F. Hut­ton to his wife, ce­real heiress Mar­jorie Mer­ri­weather Post. At the time it was the largest pri­vate yacht ever built with no ex­pense spared for teak decks, bur­nished brass and fur­nish­ings in ma­hogany and elab­o­rately carved oak. The two mas­ter bed­rooms, filled with Chip­pen­dale fur­ni­ture, were huge with mar­ble fire­places and or­nate gold faucets in the bath­room. They re­main in­tact.

The tallest of its four masts rises 56 me­tres above the wa­ter­line. The square rig­ger has 29 sails that are raised and se­cured by sev­eral kilo­me­tres of ropes and rig­ging, all by hand.

Sea Cloud has gone through many changes over the years in­clud­ing time as a weather ob­ser­va­tion ship in the Sec­ond World War. In 1979 a group of Ger­man in­vestors bought the ship, spent $7.5 mil­lion re­fur­bish­ing it and mak­ing it avail­able for char­ters and sched­uled ser­vice. Fur­ther en­hance­ments added more cab­ins and modern safety fea­tures.

Sea Cloud can now ac­com­mo­date 64 guests in a wide va­ri­ety of cab­ins. The eight ul­tra-lux­ury suites are on the first deck with the oth­ers on decks two and three be­ing mod­est in size (our room had nar­row, twin beds) but with qual­ity fur­nish­ings and ex­cel­lent L’oc­c­i­tane toi­letries in the gen­er­ously sized bath­room. There are no tele­vi­sions but in­ter­net is avail­able in pub­lic ar­eas and each day a news­pa­per sum­mary is de­liv­ered to state­rooms.

Many of the ef­fi­cient and friendly crew of 60 are kept busy do­ing con­stant main­te­nance and set­ting the sails. It’s a stun­ning spec­ta­cle to see the young men and women climb­ing up the rope lad­ders to the top­most sails where they un­tie the lines, then re­turn to deck to wres­tle and tug on the coils of rope which un­furl the vast ex­panse of bil­low­ing sheets. Sev­eral times each voy­age, guests are in­vited to help pull the ropes.

Out­stand­ing cui­sine is a high­light of ev­ery Sea Cloud cruise. Buf­fet lunch, of­ten with fresh fish brought aboard at var­i­ous ports, is carved, grilled and served on the Lido deck. There’s an ad­ja­cent bar with an ex­cel­lent ar­ray of com­pli­men­tary wine, beer and spir­its, in­clud­ing high end rum and sin­gle malt Scotch.

In the evening, el­e­gant meals are served in the orig­i­nal lounge (one wall is a fine li­brary) and ad­ja­cent din­ing room where the rich and fa­mous dined and were en­ter­tained in the 1930s and ‘ ‘ ‘40s. Sur­rounded by dark woods, hand carved ma­hogany and oak and nau­ti­cal oil paint­ings, guests are pam­pered with fine wines and ex­tra­or­di­nary cui­sine like duck breast, rack of lamb, ten­der filet of veal or black hal­ibut. We counted more than 20 dif­fer­ent cheese choices dur­ing the cruise.

En­ter­tain­ment on Sea Cloud is min­i­mal but a pi­anist played each day, a knowl­edge­able his­to­rian gave lec­tures about the is­lands we were vis­it­ing, an of­fi­cer talked about star gaz­ing (vis­i­bil­ity at night is ex­cel­lent, of course), a lo­cal band was brought aboard one evening and, as a high­light, the crew as­sem­bled in tra­di­tional sailors’ out­fits to sing sea shanties.

Our Bar­ba­dos round trip itin­er­ary was a treat. It in­cluded Be­quia in the Gre­nadines where we boarded sa­fari trucks to tour the is­land and visit a sea tur­tle re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre. Af­ter a re­lax­ing sea day we docked in Do­minica by Cabrits Na­tional Park and ad­ja­cent Fort Shirley, built in 1765 to de­ter the French.

A short visit to St. Barths with its fancy yachts and high end shops was fol­lowed by a fas­ci­nat­ing tour of Vir­gin Gorda in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands. The high­light was “The Baths”, a se­ries of huge, vol­canic sea­side boul­ders with small, pris­tine beaches. We went swim­ming the next day at Iles de Saintes in Guade­loupe. The lovely beach along­side the vil­lage is filled with fish­ing boats where the fish­er­men un­load­ing their daily catch are sur­rounded by hun­gry pel­i­cans.

At our last stop, Saint Lu­cia, we an­chored in Soufriere Har­bour, close to the fa­mous Twin Pi­tons. Most guests took the com­pli­men­tary tour to the lush Di­a­mond Botan­i­cal Gar­den and Water­fall plus the world’s only drive-in vol­cano, still steam­ing af­ter 400,000 years.

Sea Cloud lacks many of the at­tributes of modern cruise ships so it’s not for ev­ery­one. But, for At­lantic Cana­di­ans, it’s a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence a pam­pered life in the Caribbean on an au­then­tic sail­ing ship that’s been at sea for close to 90 years.


The Sea Cloud is seen un­der full sail.

Crew mem­bers climb the masts to set the sails.

One of two owner’s suites on Sea Cloud.

A view of the Baths on Vir­gin Gorda.

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