What’s it like on a tall ship cruise?

If the big and brash ocean liners don’t float your boat, take a look at the more classic and elegant options where the wind flicks through the sails and you can help steer the ship. We sent Siobhan O’Halleran to the Caribbean to experience a tall ship cruise holiday with Star Clippers.

Preussen: a legend of a ship and a name well-known among sailing experts. This mighty five-masted full rigger was the world’s largest and fastest sailing ship when she was built in 1902 to serve the nitrate trade from Chile to Germany. There was nothing like her – until the creation of Star Clippers’ flagship, Royal Clipper. Inspired by the Preussen, today ‘Royal’ is the largest fully-rigged sailing ship in the world, with five masts and 42 sails.

Unlike modern megaships, Star Clippers’ three working tall ships combine the character of traditional sailing with the intimate and elegant feel of a private yacht. They are the boutique hotels of ships, if you like, and a throwback to the golden age of ocean travel. The only clipper ship I’d seen before was the Cutty Sark, standing tall in Greenwich as a museum ship. She was the last of her kind to sail (clippers were rendered obsolete for trade by the steam ship) before the introduction of the Star Clippers’ fleet.

Tall ship voyage

Our journey was a seven-night round-trip from Barbados, sailing around the Caribbean’s Windward Islands. We lounged on the golden sands of Rodney Bay in Saint Lucia, and in lovely, lesser-visited, Dominica, we took a boat trip down the Indian River, floating silently through untamed Pirates of the Caribbean rainforest and feeling soothed by the stillness of the water.

Star Clipper

Antigua saw us wander from the harbour – where we picked our favourites from the lavish yachts – to a glorious white-sand beach where a barbecue and plenty of rum punch awaited; and St Kitts welcomed us with an island tour led by a characterful guide who dyed his beard to match his outfit. We explored the colourful little shops that greeted us in charming Iles des Saintes, then snorkelled alongside thousands of fish while herons dived in around us for their lunch.

The Royal Clipper experience

As a smaller ship, Royal Clipper can visit locations inaccessible to other vessels and, wherever she anchors, her regal sails set her apart. Inside, she’s just as impressive. Corridors are adorned with Mediterranean frescoes and the three-tiered atrium housing the dining room and Piano Bar is light and elegant, complete with sweeping staircases and a circular glass skylight – which turns out to be the bottom of one of the swimming pools. The smart teak-lined deck has plenty of space for lounging and entertainment on board is low-key, with livelier nights (think music quizzes and talent shows) thrown in for good fun.

Dining room

My favourite spot was the bowspirit net at the front of the ship – an incredible vantage point to sit and watch the dolphins riding the bow waves. ‘Sail away’ each day was a real treat; watching the crew master the ropes with military precision as the sails lowered and the haunting chords of Vangelis’ Conquest of the Paradise began to fill the air was enchanting. If you fancy learning the ropes – literally – then you’re welcome to get involved with raising the sails or turning the huge oak wheel.

Watch the crew of Star Clipper master the ropes

One evening, as the sun began to set, the tender took us out so that we could photograph our temporary home from the water. Under full sail and bathed in the dusky orange light, it was difficult to imagine a more beautiful ship. Big and bold may be popular, but there’s nothing quite like small and classic.

This feature was published on 1 August 2019. The information within this feature is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of print.

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