From the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, Nick Constance hits the deck with Royal Clipper
To be on the deck of a ship at sunrise is often memorable, but on Royal Clipper it’s a near-religious experience, due to the gorgeous sunlight striking the bright, white sails.
Officially, she is a steel-hulled, 5-masted, fully-rigged sailing ship, designed by Polish naval architect Zygmunt Choren for Star Clippers Ltd, Sweeden.
In essence, Royal Clipper is ideal for people who aren’t big on cruising, but adore – or fancy a go at – sailing.
Perhaps it had something to do with Royal Clipper’s highly-polished teak and its dark Edwardian interior but, stepping on-board felt like straying onto a Hollywood film set – hyper real, yet oh-so tangible.
I Name This Ship
Swedish entrepreneur, Mikael Krafft was the driving force behind Royal Clipper. As a keen sailor his aim was to replicate the glamour and grandeur of what was known as the Golden Age of Sailing.
Since her launch in 2000, passengers have flocked in droves to taste the Royal Clipper experience. So much so, many passengers are ‘repeaters’ – guests who come back year after year. One passenger on board had sailed on Royal Clipper an eye-popping 7 times.
Due to a rather maddening transfer problem from Nice Côte d’Azur Airport to the harbour in Cannes, we arrived on-board late in the day – just as the lifeboat drill was finishing. It sure is disconcerting stepping on-board a ship with everybody wearing bright orange lifejackets, but we eventually got in step.
As you can imagine, cabins on-board ships are compact affairs, but, they’re also designed to use every inch of space efficiently. However, expansive cabins are not the key factor on Royal Clipper. Neither is the food, the service, or even the thread-count of the bed linen – all of which are exemplary. In fact, the service couldn’t have been more pleasant or attentive.
Yes, there’s a snazzy dining room, a spa, a gym and a plunge-pool – but top billing goes to Royal Clipper itself: the teak deck and the shiny brass fittings, the rigging, the ropes, the glamorous uniforms of the crew. You might call it an exaggerated romanticism – but it works for me.
Our first 2 days were a ‘nightmare’ of occasional 6-metre waves and endless choppy waters. It was during this storm, I learnt what an inclinometer is. An inclinometer is the device used for measuring the angles of the earth’s surface. In the marine industry, inclinometers are used mainly on ships and oil rigs to measure how much a vessel slants while being on water, a bit like a spirit level.
During ‘storm Clipper’ the needle swung from left to right like a frenzied windscreen wiper. So much so, many passengers needed an injection of Metoclopramide to combat the nausea. Myself included.
I later discovered Metoclopramide Hydrochloride is a drug that has little or no effect on the sensation of seasickness, but it just might stop you actually vomiting.
On day 3 the moody tempest subsided and we duly chalked it up as being part of life at sea. After all, they say attitude is the difference between ordeal and adventure.
A favourite tradition, on Royal Clipper, is the ‘sail away’…when the ship leaves a port. As the strains of Vangelis’ triumphant 1492 Conquest of Paradise blast out from on-deck speakers, our captain gave an order to hoist sails and the great sheets unfurl with a with a satisfying snap. This mix of majestic sails and rousing music makes me feel like some bygone wayfarer striking out into unchartered territory.
The next morning, I even add my name to a list of those wanting to climb the mast. An hour later I’m strapped into a harness, but this doesn’t give much comfort once I start missing my footing on the rope ladder, 20 metres above deck. I press on regardless and the view across the bay is nothing short of magnificent.
Other thrill-seekers might want to ‘relax’ on the netting running out from the ship’s bow, to which the forestays are fastened. The allure of Royal Clipper, by the way, is you don’t have to know the difference between a top-sail and a middlemast to appreciate its majesty.
One of the joys about being on a smaller ship is you get opportunity to mingle with other guests as well as members of the crew. I met some fascinating and like-minded souls including Maxine Paetro, an American writer and novelist who gave a fabulous reading from some of her works, in the ship’s library.
On day 9, we docked in Casablanca next to a cruise liner the size of a small town and Royal Clipper’s Chief Officer made a brilliant observation. “Nobody on-board Royal Clipper is taking photos of the mammoth ship, but there are plenty of people on-board the giant ship taking shots of Royal Clipper”. Quite.
Wear It Well
Life on board is informal, but the ship maintains a smart-casual dress code. Beach or resort-wear on deck during the day and smarter attire during the evening. (Jackets and ties not required. No shorts at dinner.) As part of this informal approach, guests can dine when and with whom they choose.
Breakfast and lunch are bountiful buffets, and dinner is a fixed menu posted earlier in the day so passengers know in advance what’s on offer. Off-menu requests are usually quietly catered for.
My fellow passengers are primarily a mix of Brits, Americans and Europeans, hence the triple translation of any on-board announcements. (English, French, German.)
Occasionally, my attention turns away from the ship and off I go, loose-footed, into the backstreets of Tangier, or Casablanca. There are some passengers who don’t go ashore, preferring to stay on the ship. “I don’t need any more culture, I AM culture”, says Gerhardt, a doctor who once worked with a German submarine fleet. I’m not sure whether his statement was tongue-in-cheek, or for real, but he deserves an honourable mention.
Trips on Royal Clipper are not suitable for children, since there are no separate areas for them. It’s also not recommended for people with walking difficulties, as there are several narrow stairways to negotiate both indoors and out.
The ship occasionally drops anchor and lowers a platform for passengers to enjoy an array of water sports such as kayaking, snorkelling and swimming. And if seas permit, once during each cruise a tender is lowered so the passengers can photograph Royal Clipper under full sail.
In fact, taking photos of Royal Clipper, from the tender transporting us from Cannes portside to the ship anchored in the bay, was one of the highlights of my voyage. And it was a voyage, not a cruise.
As spoken by Ratty to Mole in Wind in the Willows, “There is nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”. To anyone contemplating a voyage, I would say GO!
Contact Star Clippers reservations on 0845 200 6145 – starclippers.co.uk.
Star Clippers operate three magnificent tall ships, sailing year-round in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Indonesian, Cuban and Asian waters. An 11-night `cruise-only’ around Italy, Montenegro & Croatia next summer costs from £2537pp including Port Charges, or a mini-cruise from Rome to Rome from £925pp including port charges for 4 nights, excluding flights and transfers. To book, call 0808 231 4798 or visit starclippers.co.uk.