|Style: The leisurely golden days of sail meets 21st century comfort.
Seen on Deck: A gaggle of soigne Europeans - lightly-tanned, blonde-haired, silver-grey mane Nordic types and latin lovelies with raven tresses, (men and women). All wear their crumpled linens with ease.
The Adriatic coast of Croatia, Montenegro, Corfu, across to Sicily
, Capri, Ponza to Rome.
Everyone is clustered on Royal Clipper's upper deck, darting from portside to starboard lingering long over the last glimpses of Venice's magnificent profile - fabled icons such as the Doges Palace, the Campanile, the churches of della Salute, San Giorgio and innumerable others. The helmsman threads the square rigger past the islands of the lagoon - Murano, Burano, Torcello and out into the Adriatic.
Captain Sergey stands astride the helm. Gazing skyward he assesses the wind direction, issues a command and everyone watches - lump in the throat - as the sails balloon into 'full-bloom', while Vangelis' theme music from the film 1492 rises to a crescendo. Now we are sailing - praying for fair winds to carry us on our odyssey which will take us along the Adriatic coast of Croatia, Montenegro, Corfu, across to Sicily, Capri, Ponza to Rome.
Royal Clipper has 42 sails: 26 squaresails, 11 staysails, 4 jibs and 1 gaff-rigged spanker - in all, 5000 square metres of sail inventory made of the finest quality Dacron. She is the largest clipper ship in the world today, and the first, five-masted, full-rigged sailing ship to be built in more than one hundred years. Modelled on Preussen, the historic flagship of Germany's famed Flying P line, Royal Clipper is the flagship of Star Clippers, brainchild of passionate sailor Swedish-born Mikael Krafft, founder of Star Clippers.
Royal Clipper's classy interior of polished wood paneling, brass fittings, and paintings of legendary ships echoes the Edwardian era. The atrium is the focal point of the ship. With three levels, overlooking a two-tiered dining room.The atrium is decorated with trompe l'oeuil murals similar to those in the villas of Venetian nobility.
Just who is on board? A gaggle of soigne Europeans - lightly-tanned, blonde-haired, silver-grey mane Nordic types and latin lovelies with raven tresses...
Just who is on board? A gaggle of soigne Europeans - lightly-tanned, blonde-haired, silver-grey mane Nordic types and latin lovelies with raven tresses, (men and women). All wear their crumpled linens with ease. Ooh! I do love the cut of their jib. There is also a scattering of North Americans, a few Brits and some enthusiastic Aussies who also cut a bit of a dash. The majority are fit couples in the 30-60 demographic with plenty of lee-way either side.
The tone is classy fraternity. Almost all are repeats passengers if not on Royal Clipper then either of Star Clippers' two smaller ships, Star Clipper and Star Flyer Aglow with exhilaration Everybody bonds quickly. Within minutes our new best friends are a German family where an elegant, fun-loving grandmother has brought her brood of sons, daughters and grandchildren for a family holiday. Other friends are a couple from Sweden and their two gorgeous 17-year-old girls. Language is seldom a barrier. Most speak excellent English.
The dress-code for dinner is pleasantly informal: no ties or jackets for men, something pretty for women. There is no fixed seating. You can choose a table for two or join a table of ten. Dinner is a la carte and without exception very good. Breakfast and lunch are buffet with eggs and other menu items cooked on request. Often we would lunch ashore, then race back to the ship for the lunch dessert selection which was outstanding.
Pre-dinner, most gather on the Tropical Deck, others in the plush navy-blue upholstered main bar and lounge for piano music or marine biology talks. After dinner entertainment tended to be audience participation, often hilarious, or regional folkloric troupes. My favourite was Pirate night - no Johnny Depp
in sight - instead a silly but hilariously funny crab racing event. My crab won.
I resolved to attend the daily Tai Chi classes led by captain at 7am. On my first day, I see no-one in immaculately-pressed whites - instead, I see a slender, very fit man of about 40-ish in saffron pajamas. It is Captain Sergey - our Tai Chi instructor, and ship's master.
New-found friends invite us to view their suite. It amazes with its spaciousness, fine fittings and mahogany finish. (They even have their own sun deck). It equals, if not betters many a five-star cruise ship. Meanwhile, our en-suite cabin is more modest but we have no complaints. We have all the trimmings theirs does - quality toiletries, turn-down service et al.
Our first port was pretty Rovinj in Croatia. While there were plenty of shore excursions, we just meandered happily at our own pace and did the same in gorgeous Hvar, clearly a mecca for the super-rich judging by the luxury yachts and cruisers.
Approaching the walled city of Dubrovnik by sea is a stirring sight. Within the walls, the town was very crowded so we headed for the countryside, did some wine-tasting and returned later in the afternoon.
The next day, we awoke in Kotor, Montenegro and marveled at its magnificent fjord, the southernmost in Europe. Corfu followed, the greenest and northernmost of the seven major Ionian islands. Highlights were the old town of Kerkyra, and Achilleion, once the palace of the tragic Sisi (Elisabeth) wife of Franz Josef, Emperor of the Austro Hungarian Empire.
During lazy days at sea, some take sailing lessons, climb the mast, tie knots, hoist the sails, and learn how to gibe and tack, while others bask on deck, swim (three pools) or head for the spa for massages, beauty treatments, or gym workouts.
If I have a favourite port it is Taormina (Sicily) with its spectacular backdrop of Mt Etna huffing and puffwing in the distance; the magnificent Greco-Roman theatre; and the town's entrancing streetscapes - shops brimming with colourful ceramics, marzipan, puppets, designer clothing, bars and restaurants.
As we enter the Bay of Naples, thankfully Vesuvius is not huffing and puffing. We drop anchor, pile in to the local tenders and head for Capri, hedonistic playground (it still is) of Roman emperors.
We take the Funiculare up to the Piazzetta, popular rendezvous of the glitterati and literati, stroll the elegant streets, ogle the eye-popping opulence of the window displays, and sadly walk on by. We then take the hair-raising bus ride up to Anacapri to visit the must-see Villa San Michele, villa and gardens of Swedish doctor and author Axel Munthe.
Our last port is tiny Ponza, its waterfront lined with gaily-painted houses. This will also be the last opportunity to enjoy watersports from Royal Clipper's Marina platform - waterskiing, windsurfing, snorkeling or scuba. Instead, we go ashore, find a trattoria, and sit down for a plate of pasta with the local fishermen. What could be better than that?
Cruise Line: Star Clippers
Vessel: Royal Clipper
Star Rating: 4 stars
Passenger Capacity: 227
Small Ship: 5061 tons
Twin 2500 hp diesel engines
|Check in: Star Clippers, Clipper Palace, 4 rue de la Turbie, MC 98000 Monaco or www.starclippers.com
|Ultimate Luxury: Lying on a chaise on the upper deck gazing at a Starry, Starry Night - with thanks to Vincent, and Don MacLean.
|Most Indulgent Moment: Watching all 42 sails unfurl and billow with the breezes. Stuff of the Gods.
|Insider Secrets: There are insider secrets, but nothing matches the óutsider secrets like standing up on the bow and seeing the approach of 'Land Ahoy' and watching the sailors shimmy up the masts, or mending the sails at the sewing machine - just being there.
|The Little Things: Endearing moments such as watching awestruck youngsters respond to the sheer majesty of sail and the patience of Royal Clippers' sailors.
|Junior Luxies: Plenty. They can learn how to tie knots, have a turn at the helm, climb the masts (with safety harness), all at prescribed times and under supervision.
|Dress code: European 'cool casual'. Be adventurous. Wear crumpled linen like the Italians do. (Silvio excepted). Sandals are fine. But NEVER with socks!
|Dent in the platinum:
Maggy Oehlbeck, 15/1/12