Stellar Sailing Aboard The Star Flyer
by Susan Campbell
“ So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain
I’m not a morning person. But for some inexplicable reason, I found myself on the top deck of the Star Flyer before the crack of dawn my first day at sea. It was pitch black and windy, and I found myself hanging on tightly as I tried to steady myself to get in position in case the sunrise surprised me out of the blue. As dark dissipated, I noticed the silhouette of tall, bearded older man frozen in position with a big serious camera- also poised to capture what might transpire. I could see he’d found the ideal spot, so I inched over to join him. He gave me a half-nod, and we silently leaned up against the rail waiting for the rays to break through the clouds. Then the ship suddenly lurched, and a large rogue wave tumbled over the deck and soaked us both to the skin. After the initial shock, we both laughed hysterically, and later we were joined by Tony, another early photo seeker. We quickly became pre-breakfast club pals of sunrise seekers for the rest of the trip. I truly enjoyed their company, and that’s the beauty of this type of small ship sailing, by journey’s end, chances are very good, you’ll have met everyone on board.
About the Ship
This truly is a craft for sailors. Evoking a more romantic time of sea travel, with big billowing sails – it’s awe-inspiring the way it slices so silently through the water save the occasional whip crack of the sails or a slow groan of the timbers. Built in 1990 as a luxe cruise ship, Star Flyer is a four masted “barquentine” which means “a sailing ship of three or more masts rigged square on the foremast and fore-and-aft on the others”. And yes, I had to look that up. This one is 360 ft. long and accommodates up to 170 passengers and is operated by Star Clippers Ltd. of Sweden. Along with its twin sister ship the Star Clipper, they are the TALLEST tall ships in the world- both boasting masts of 226 ft. in height. They are very classy vessels- all rich polished teak complemented by gleaming brass brightwork with well-appointed, spacious cabins. (Though there are no private outdoor decks.) Each ship also has two top deck swimming pools- one with a peek-a-boo window below where guests below can observe the swimmers above.
Life on Board
So, what’s it like to take a journey aboard this type of ship? Exhilarating, yet sometimes challenging. The motion of the ocean isn’t for everyone. Though I got my sea legs early, the checkerboard of shin bruises I took home as a souvenir attests to the sudden shifts-although the constant swaying can really rock you into a nice deep slumber. Also, never leave your toilet seat open. My toiletries ended up in the toilet while I was in the shower when I did. But I was very impressed with the shower-it was very powerful for its small size. However, if you’re prone to seasickness, this might not be the journey for you. And it’s not for those with limited mobility either. There are no elevators, and even the able bodied had some precarious moments on the swinging stairs down the side of the ship to the tiny tenders. However, if you’re up to an excellent sea adventure- this is definitely the ship for you. And the fact that you often dock in small marinas where the big boys can’t go makes you feel far more like a voyager than a visitor at every port of call.
If you don’t go ashore for excursions or enjoy the beach set-up the crew offers like kayaking, snorkeling or paddle boarding, there is a library with book lending and DVDs are also available. You’re also welcome to learn to sail the ship, tie knots, and even climb the mast (under supervision.) I’ve written about all of our excursions and different ports of call in my Tropical Tidbits column on page 38 as there was a lot to cover in this Leeward Islands Caribbean itinerary. But do note that excursions cost extra.
Dining & Entertainment
Not that we didn’t dine very well- we did- but if you’re expecting the type of massive round-the-clock food offerings you receive on a typical cruise ship, you’ll be disappointed. Meal times are strictly set with small snack offerings in between and no room service. But you won’t be disappointed in the fare. We thoroughly enjoyed the bountiful breakfast and lunch buffets and dinner is set five-course menus with options of usually fish, seafood, meat, and vegetarian specialties. A nice touch is that they set out each main dish ahead so you can see how it’s served before ordering. There’s only one main dining, room –no reserved seating –and their resident musician serenades all from a grand piano. Very sophisticated. But ladies, do pack a wrap as the air-conditioning can be chilly at times. The wine selection is good- but not included in the cruise, nor is the bar, but their prices are very reasonable.
Entertainment wise, it’s pretty low key, though daily Happy-Hour at the bar can be lively and we did enjoy some really fun nights themed around things like fashion and talent shows. And one night a steel band came aboard. But basically, the party was over by 11pm latest each evening though you can go star gaze on the top deck which is also great nightly entertainment!
In this itinerary, the Royal Clipper- the Grande Dame of this outfit- graces you with a sail-by and joins for a brief time in Dominica. It’s a big deal. The excitement of the crew as she arrived on the horizon in all her magnificence was palpable, and they ran around passing out flags to greet her while speakers blasted ‘Conquest of Paradise’ by Vangelis. It was impossible not to get caught up in the emotion of it all. But gala as that was, it was the final night and hoisting the sails one last time to a spectacular light show and more epic dramatic music that moved me the most. I’d become quite at home aboard our lovely little ship and very comfortable among my new-found sailor friends and wasn’t ready to leave. But that’s travel life. So, with bittersweet goodbyes, we eventually headed our separate way hoping to meet up again on another Star Clippers cruise one day.
Click on cover to view published article