My flight to Malaga, Spain, went smoothly and I boarded the Royal Clipper in the late afternoon for an evening departure on Oct. 18, 2001. The largest sailing ship in the world, the Clipper is 439 feet long, with five masts and 42 sails. Over the next 17 days, I had plenty of time to explore the ship and experience the thrill of a transatlantic crossing.
Although the ship has the look of an old square-rigger, it is just over one year old and is elegantly furnished throughout. Accommodations and food were great and crew members were friendly and enthusiastic.
There were 148 passengers and 108 crew. Most passengers were European (primarily German, British and Dutch), but there were a few Americans and Canadians. English was the main language on the ship although announcements also were made in German and French. Before the end of the voyage, I had met many people and exchanged e-mail addresses.
At land and sea
We had some rough weather for the first two days (8- to 12-foot seas and 40 mph winds), but the rest of the voyage was quite calm. The ship does roll a bit with the ocean swells, although I quickly became accustomed to the motion. If the winds were not sufficient, the ship did use the motor in order to maintain an average speed of 10 knots.
The Clipper stopped at Casablanca, Morocco, and Las Palmas, Canary Islands, before the long sailing across the ocean to Bridgetown, Barbados. Time seemed to slow down, and about every two days we gained an extra hour as we crossed another time zone. There were many lazy days of bright sunshine with temperatures in the 90s and spectacular sunsets each evening.
Each morning, I went on a "nautical walkabout" where I learned about different aspects of sailing ships. Our leader on the walkabout was a British naval historian who was making his 32nd transatlantic crossing. On October 21st (Trafalgar Day), he dressed as Admiral Nelson and gave a lively lecture about that special day in British naval history.
There were plenty of activities each day and entertainment each night. I hardly had time to read any of the books that I had taken with me. I climbed the mast and also steered the ship several times under both sail and power. After some practice, I could hold the ship within [+ or -]2 degrees of the intended course. The autopilot could hold the ship within [+ or -]1.5 degrees.
Passengers were allowed on the bridge and the ship's officers were always willing to talk about their chart and navigational work. Passengers could also help with certain ship operations although this was not required. I did help hoist sails, updated my knot-tying and rope-splicing skills, and volunteered on several occasions to help the crew with varnishing woodwork and polishing brass.
We did see some dolphins on two days as well as one whale and many flying fish.
Midway on the crossing, the water was nearly as smooth as glass one day. The captain announced that the ship would stop for a few hours in the afternoon so that passengers could go swimming in the ocean. The water temperature was 82 degrees.
On another calm day, the ship hoisted all sails and passengers could go for a ride on one of the ship's tenders for a photo tour around the vessel.'>
I brought my own ocean chart and handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) so I could keep a record of the ship's course. My plotted course line compared quite closely with the ship's chart. The entire voyage from Malaga to Bridgetown was 3,493 nautical miles (equivalent to 4,020 land miles). It was a great experience and I look forward to another sailing adventure someday.
You can see pictures of the ship at the company website, www.starclippers.com. The site also has a listing, by state, of travel agents who book the cruises. I booked the trip with the help of Boat U.S. Travel (800/477-4427).
The head office of Star Clippers in the U.S. is located at 4101 Salzedo Ave., Coral Gables, FL 33146; phone 305/442-0550 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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