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