Home Is Where the Ship Is

Come aboard with the man be­hind the mo­tion of the world’s largest fully rigged tall ship.

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - What’s Inside - BY FRAN GOLDEN

Come aboard with the man be­hind the mo­tion of Royal Clipper.


on Star Clip­pers’ 439-foot, five-masted tall ship Royal Clipper, the largest such ship in the world, it’s a jaw-drop­ping mo­ment for guests. Some 54,000 feet of cloth catches wind as the march­ing tones of the song “Con­quest of Par­adise” play from loud speak­ers, punc­tu­at­ing the drama.

For Os­car Gue­vara, 39, it’s a hec­tic time as he and the ship’s other two rig­gers pull lines, check rout­ing mo­tors, tie knots, and keep their eyes to the sheets, their senses piqued to the power of the breeze. They are in man­the-bat­tle-sta­tions mode as they do their job of main­tain­ing the sails. A SAILOR’S LIFE

The life of a sea­man in fic­tion may re­flect rowdy times and tall tales, world ex­plo­ration with a dose of pi­rate speak, and a pen­chant for tat­toos. That’s not the life that Gue­vara leads.

“Peo­ple say, ‘Oh, you sail around the world and I hear that all the sea­men have a girl­friend in ev­ery port,’” he laughs heartily. “I say, ‘Oh yeah, I wish to be like that, but we are al­ways work­ing.”

Gue­vara spends 10 months at sea and then re­turns to his home in San Pe­dro Sula in north­ern Hon­duras, close to the At­lantic Coast, where for three or four months he’s a leisurely fam­ily man. When he’s home, his wife and kids (a teenager and a tod­dler) are his main fo­cus.

“Some­times I have to ex­plain to friends and rel­a­tives that when I am home I don’t want to talk about the ship,” he ad­mits. “I want to know ev­ery­thing about home. It’s like with our kids, I leave my daugh­ter one year and she is sud­denly 13 and a teenager. I want them to know how much I miss them.”

On board the 227-pas­sen­ger Royal Clipper, while guests re­lax on the bowsprit or ex­plore on shore, Gue­vara and the other rig­gers might be spot­ted climb­ing a mast, the tallest 177 feet, to re­move a torn sail. The rig­gers wear a har­ness, but see­ing them dan­gle is like watch­ing a win­dow washer on a sky­scraper. You cringe, but you can’t stop look­ing.

“We al­ways have to keep our eyes on the sails,” Gue­vara says. “We have to avoid the big dam­age. If there is any small dam­age we see, a small rip, we need to take care of it im­me­di­ately be­fore it gets worse. It will be harder to re­pair it if we wait.”

Rig­gers re­pair the sails on a sewing ma­chine in the crew area below decks, be­fore re­plac­ing them dur­ing another mast climb. More chal­leng­ing is a bro­ken bar.

“The bar, the crew­ing bar, when they break in­side the sail, is quite com­pli­cated,” Gue­vara says, us­ing his hands to de­scribe the is­sue. “A dif­fi­cult day is when we get a bro­ken bar. Then I have a tough day.”

In­trepid guests have the op­por­tu­nity once a week to climb a smaller mast to get a taste of what the ex­pe­ri­ence is like, but only when the wind is calm so it’s not quite the same thing.


Gue­vara says his mus­cles come from climb­ing, not pulling ropes, and that climb­ing was one thing that came nat­u­rally to him.

“As a child, I climbed trees. I had many trou­bles with my teach­ers in school be­cause I was al­ways climb­ing the trees,” he laughs. To­day, he knows the masts well — and the sails and the ropes.

“Ev­ery­thing can be set man­u­ally if we want; we are in the mod­ern years,” says Gue­vara. “It’s not like Colum­bus when they had to pull ev­ery­thing by hand. We have the winches, which are elec­tric. And all the square sails come by rout­ing mo­tors.” The ship also mo­tors with­out sails at times.

Still, Gue­vara seems om­nipresent on deck, al­ways in sun­glasses, his beard neatly trimmed, some­times wear­ing a ban­dana to pro­tect his head from the sun. De­pend­ing on the time of day and task at hand, his uni­form may be a striped sailor shirt with “Royal Clipper” in red let­ters across his chest, a blue jump­suit, or stiff whites.

Gue­vara came to Star Clip­pers after work­ing for now- de­funct big ship lines Premier Cruises and Com­modore Cruise Line as an OS (or­di­nary sea­man). He says he didn’t know a thing about sails when he joined the crew of the 170-pas­sen­ger Star Clipper in 2003.

“When you talk about a tall ship, ev­ery­thing changes,” he says. “There are so many lines you have to learn and things you never did be­fore. Thanks to the com­pany, I learned slowly, and I came to be the rig­ger over the years. All the ex­pe­ri­ence I have about sail­ing ships I got on board.”

Gue­vara ex­plains that when it comes to know­ing which line goes where, “It’s like a com­puter in my head. Ev­ery sin­gle line has a pur­pose. We have to know each one and we call them by name — mid­dle sta­tion sheet, port side, mid­dle sta­tion star­board side, braces lines, up­per brace and lower brace .” He proves his point.


Gue­vara’s fa­vorite des­ti­na­tion to sail is the Caribbean, be­cause, he says, “There’s more wind and we can move be­tween the is­lands.” But whether in the Caribbean, or Europe, or sail­ing trans-At­lantic, his typ­i­cal day starts at 6 a.m. and ends some 10 hours later.

Home away from home is a shared dou­ble cabin, and Gue­vara says that the food on Royal Clipper is good and com­radery is easy with the 106-per­son crew (25 in the deck de­part­ment).

“I think the life on the ship is nice,” he says with a smile.

Ad­di­tion­ally, if Royal Clipper is in port into the night, the day­time deck crew may en­joy some free time on shore. Talk­ing with pas­sen­gers on the ex­pan­sive open deck is also part of the fun, Gue­vara says.

“This is one of the most in­ter­est­ing things on this type of ship be­cause we have com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween pas­sen­gers and crew, and it’s a more ‘nor­mal’ life than on the big ships,” he ex­plains. “Some of the guests also are re­peaters who we al­ready know.”

Of course, it’s not al­ways smooth sail­ings for Gue­vara.

“When it’s windy and rough seas, it’s very com­pli­cated. We take care of things that can fly away or move,” he says. “Any job that we do, we have to re­ally be con­cerned about safety. We have to re­mem­ber that when we are up on a mast we are on our own. No­body is push­ing you. No­body is telling you that you are not se­cure. It’s up to you.”

Is it some­times ter­ri­fy­ing?

“For many peo­ple it can be, but I am used to it,” he says.

As we talk on the open deck off the coast of St. Kitts, the wind is whip­ping and the ship is mov­ing. Gue­vara con­fesses that when he first went to sea he got sea­sick. Luck­ily, that’s no longer a prob­lem.

The rig­gers wear a har­ness, but see­ing them dan­gle is like watch­ing a win­dow washer on a sky­scraper. You cringe, but you can’t stop look­ing.

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