There’s cruising, and there’s sailing. Think high jinx on the high seas, instead of the blue rinse set cruising the deep blue sea
The first thing to greet us on the deck of Star Clipper is a fruity concoction in a champagne glass. “Where’s the best place on the ship?” asks Anna Langstrom, cruise director, at the end of the safety briefing. “The bar,” someone yells from the back. “That’s right,” Anna confirms to a ripple of laughter.
Moments later 1492 – Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis blares out across the ship’s loudspeakers, signaling the raising of the sails on the main deck. Star Clipper has four masts, 16 sails and thousands of square feet of Dacron weighing around two tons, ready to capture the wind. Raising the sails is no easy process, despite being aided by several electric-powered winches. Muscle-power and heave-ho is still part of the mix and captain and crew are experienced square-rigger sailors. It is exhilarating to watch them in action. The crew work in unison while captain Peter Kaaling stands by, his gaze trained on the sea, no doubt gauging the wind, the weather, and our course as we sail away from Istanbul, the sun sinking behind the minarets of the Blue Mosque.
The 360-foot Star Clipper is a gorgeous ship. British designer Donald Starkey, known for creating the décor for many of the world’s most-admired mega-yachts, is behind the ship’s Edwardian interiors, enhanced with traditional nautical features. And Star Clipper is not alone. She has a slightly older twin sister, Star Flyer. The two ships are close to identical, featuring expansive teak decks, an on-deck bar, salt water swimming pools, and an informal dining area and piano lounge. Oh, and the Tropical Bar… the best place on the ship.
Star Flyer was the first to launch, commissioned in May 1991, and followed a year later by Star Clipper. “Star Flyer and Star Clipper are actually much bigger than most clipper ships were,” says Mikael Krafft, the owner of Star Clippers. “Technically, they are rigged barquentines, with a full mast square rigged and the remaining masts rigged fore and aft.” This may be so, but the ships are styled on the tea clippers of the 19th Century that ‘clipped’ the waves as they plied the oceanic trade routes. Three years of intense research went into the making of these beauties, much of it studying original plans for ships of the mid- 19th century and making design modifications to incorporate new materials and engineering innovations. Not so many clippers of old housed swimming pools on deck, but these, the first clippers to be built since 1910, combine the yore of old with contemporary comfort for their 170 pampered guests.
The fleet also encompasses a third ship, Royal Clipper, modelled on the legendary five-masted tall ship, Preussen. Royal Clipper is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s biggest square rigger. “I had always been fascinated by Preussen,” says Krafft. “I had a model of it when I was younger. I thought, ‘One day, I will build that’.” So he did.
Sails raised and crew at ease, delicious aromas start drifting aft from the dining room. Guests follow their noses. Unlike a standard cruise ship, there is no assigned seating or set meal time. Guests are free to dine any time within the designated three-hour window and mingle as preferred, avoiding the horror of being stuck with a group of oil and gas engineers when you are a staunch environmentalist. This is just one of the many differences.
Consider any standard mid-range cruise liner; the daily sheet will be packed full of forced entertainment, the staff will do a hard sell on the shore excursions, and the average age is likely to be in the septuagenarian range. Hearing aids are as common as Hawaiian shirts. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with this – but Star Clippers is different. There are a number of families on board, and looking around at dinner, we don’t feel we are outside the age spectrum. There is a limited range of optional tours, but we’re not pressured to join. Instead, in most of the ports to come, we will have transfer services into both the port-town, and a nearby beach for water sports ranging from snorkeling to wakeboarding. There are a few activities on deck, mostly nautically themed, including climbing the mast and knot-tying classes, but on the whole, passengers are responsible for their own entertainment. Most prefer it that way and head to – you guessed it – the bar.
Docking in Turkey and Greece
Our first, and only, port in Turkey is Canakkale. This is one of the least inspiring port towns, but it gives access to Troy and Gallipoli. Troy requires some imagination, or a strong interest in archaeology, while appreciation of Gallipoli comes from an understanding of World War 1 – the Gallipoli campaign was the greatest Ottoman victory during the war and provided impetus for Turkish independence. As the first major military operation for Australia and New Zealand, it is often seen as these countries’ emergence as independent nations, as well as a national tragedy, given the crushing defeat and huge number of lives lost. Being Australian, I have no choice but to pay my respects. At the troop landing site it becomes apparent how the Allies lost – surrounded by a ring of mountains it is clearly not an optimum battle site. The Lone Pine Cemetery on the ridge and the Turkish Cemetery close by, are powerful reminders that no one wins in war.
Day two brings a less somber ambience. We anchor off the island of Limnos, near the port town of Myrina in Greece. We have a full day here to explore the island, dominated by the ramparts of the Kastro. A short hike to the top provides excellent panoramic views of the port and the beaches on both sides of the island. We clamber over the crumbling structure, watched by the local mountain goats who sneer at our rock-climbing ineptitude, bleating admonishingly from a distance.
We are tempted to zip back to the ship for lunch, after all, it is included, but wandering the alleys we cannot resist the aroma of grilled meat. Our olfactory senses lead us to a diner specializing in spit-grilling, small tables pressed into the walls of the narrow laneway. Mesmerized by the rotating racks of skewered meats we order chicken and gobble down the simple but tasty fare as if we hadn’t eaten a three-course meal the night before.
Sated, we window shop along Myrina’s main thoroughfare which crosses most of the island. It is crammed with locals and visitors, packed with cafes, jewelry designers, boutiques and souvenir stores. In the central square islanddwellers sip on coffee, sitting at shaded tables as they watch their young playing in the plaza.
On the quiet side of the island, we cool off in the deliciously refreshing ocean, dipping in and out of the turquoise water. Crispy from salt and sun, we return the way we came, the street eerily deserted, as if the apocalypse had wiped it clean in our absence. The shops are closed, the
locals home-bound for a late afternoon siesta. Time to go back to the ship. Perhaps the bar.
An afternoon arrival in Ouranopolis gives us time to climb the mast in the morning. The wind is gusting, but hooked on to the ropes via a harness, it is not too difficult to shimmy up the ladder to the first crow’s nest. From this angle the ship is incredibly complex – a mass of ropes, sails, winches and crew. Looking out to sea as we pass the heights of Mt Athos evokes a romantic image of sailing, the wind fluttering the sails, the ship gently heeling to starboard as it cuts through the waves.
Coaxed down from my vantage point by the promise of coffee, we zip into Ouranopolis with its picturesque watchtower overlooking the beach. We sip lattes by the water and decide to transfer to the beach to try our hand at something more active – wakeboarding. Flying over the wake, the sun warming my back, the town beckoning in the distance, a massive grin is plastered on my face. This is the life.
Poros, Russian Bay and the Perfect Ending
We arrive early in Skiathos, determined to make the most of our full day in port. We rent a scooter, racing into the hills to find a peaceful hilltop monastery. Ignoring the rental attendant’s advice, we ride towards Castro, the remains of a medieval town perched on a clifftop jutting into the ocean. The attendant was right. We can’t get there, the steep, cobbled roads becoming impassable, but we get close. We park the motorbike and walk the final section. The extensive ruins are worth the effort, although walking back up the steep slope in the harsh afternoon sun we are far less enthusiastic.
We ride along the coast, the breeze tingling our faces as the sun sinks towards the horizon. Another sea dip revives us, but dinner lures us back to the ship. The evening meals are too good to miss. Later a Greek dancing troupe entertains us with traditional reels, the four dancers swaying and bobbing on the deck.
We arrive and leave early from Skopelos, and are happy to achieve nothing of note, instead relaxing over coffees and pastries, saving our energy for our final port – Poros. Poros is a pretty town, whitewashed buildings climbing over the hills, stacked one on top of the other. A maze of alleys and stairways leads to a series of small churches overlooking the harbor, Star Clipper the only moderately-sized ship to drop anchor here. She is captivating, her bare masts reaching to the sky as she sits surrounded by azure water, the tiny tender running back and forth between port and ship barely visible from this viewpoint.
Our time on board is drawing to a close. We spend our last few hours with the watersports team at Russian Bay, so named for the ruins of the former Russian naval station sitting smack-bang in the middle of the beach, a marked contrast to the sunloungers and snack bar selling ice creams to pink-tinged tourists.
As we reluctantly pack our bags in the evening in preparation for our arrival in Athens, we reflect on the week on board. We’ve made new friends and explored distant shores, eaten far too well, and idled away time in the best place on the ship. We are relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated – the definition of a perfect holiday.
Star Clippers offer fully-crewed tall ship sailing voyages in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Central America and Cuba. A three night sailing on board the flag-ship Royal Clipper costs from £680pp, a seven night Greek Islands sailing on Star Clipper costs from £1470pp and a 10 night Mediterranean sailing on Royal Clipper costs from £2320pp. Prices include all meals on board and port taxes. To book, call Star Clippers on +44 845 200 6145 or visit www.starclippers.co.uk.
Images by Giselle Whiteaker
Bio: Giselle Whiteaker, originally Australian, is an inveterate expatriate. She has lived in Japan, South Korea, the UK, and Vietnam. She now, at least temporarily, calls the United Arab Emirates home, but she travels so frequently that she sometimes forgets where she lives. Giselle is the editor of two lifestyle and property magazines, Exclusive Home Worldwide and Property Scene and Group Deputy Editor for Etihad Airways’ inflight magazines. See gisellew.weebly.com for more of her work.