There is a moment on every Royal Clipper cruise that grabs you by the heart and squeezes…hard.
It isn’t at sail away, nor is it as you glide into your final port. It’s a moment that’s hard to predict, actually…a moment that happens at Nature’s whim…but when it comes, you’ll never forget it.
When the wind begins to freshen, the captain calls you to the top deck. Standing with your shipmates, a swell of classical music playing in the background, you watch open-mouthed as acres of canvas are pulled skyward, up the tall straight masts of what is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest tall ship in the world. As the billowing sails reach the top of each mast, the wind explodes into them, stretching and pushing the canvases until each is as round and taut as a Buddha’s belly.
It’s then that the Royal Clipper springs to life. The wind is her lifeblood and the sea is her lover as she races into the embrace of the waves. Timid guests may go below when the winds blow wild, but for those of us who love the air and the sea and the speed, this is the best of times. Let others head for the Tropical Bar or the comforts of their cozy staterooms. We’ll stay on deck, feel the wind at our backs and catch the tang of the salt in our nostrils.
On either side of the bow, two small overhangs create balconies where wind-and-wave lovers can sit, three abreast, to feel closer to the action, but if you’re a true fanatic, you need to go further forward, to climb out onto the nets strung on either side of the bow. There, nothing but thick woven rope lies between you and the ocean. When the wind is howling and the waves are crashing, it’s too loud for conversation – other than with the sea – so you cling and crash and commune with Nature. Later with the help of the friendly crew, you can climb the mast to a perch high above the deck and get a true bird’s eye view. It’s bliss for the adventurous heart.
Currently the only five-masted, full-rigged sailing ship built since the 1902 sailing of the Preussen – the famous but short-lived vessel in whose image she was designed - Royal Clipper is439 feet of polished decks and gleaming brass fittings, manned by an international crew and offering a glam combination of adventure, fine dining and outstanding service.
My itinerary was a short one, sailing out of Malaga, Spain en route to Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, with calls along the way on the islands of Menorca and Mallorca – but it was certainly long enough for me to fall in love with the concept of clipper ship sailing.My well-appointed and spacious stateroom had neither a sliding glass door with the balcony beyond that I normally love, nor even a window that opened but rather two portholes, just above water level. My concern that I might be seasick without more access to a horizon view proved silly. In fact, I quickly came to love lying in bed at night, listening to the waves sloshing against the glass. It made me feel quite mermaid-ish. I felt even more so in the Captain Nemo Spa and Gymnasium, where all the portholes looked out not onto but into the ocean. If the timing was right, you could lie on a massage table and enjoy your treatment while little fish eyes glimmered beyond the glass of the portholes.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Royal Clipper’s design was its three-story atrium that created an open, airy space above the formal dining room below. Light streamed in from above, making breakfast a sunny affair despite the fact that we were three decks below the actual sunshine. Though elegant as any afloat, the dining room on the Royal Clipper has dispensed with the formality of dressing for dinner and has no assigned seating. I felt entirely free to find companions anywhere I pleased and enjoyed great evenings with new friends and wonderful food.
Though it was hard to push myself off the ship, the ports of Menorca and Mallorca were not to be missed. Time ashore was limited so to make the most of my Mallorca encounter I took a delightfully touristy hop-on hop-off double deck bus, which allowed me to cover the maximum amount of ground in the minimum time. Handy headsets and simultaneous translation enabled me to grasp what I was seeing well enough to give me the grounding I needed for my on-foot explorations. Though I didn’t do all 16 stops, I did manage to enjoy the cathedral, the Palace of Almudaina, the fish exchange, and Plaza Mayor – four must-sees in Palma de Mallorca.
Next day, I opted for a DIY tour of the old city on Menorca, a far quieter but equally charming island. Though my Spanish is limited, I managed to make friends with two young men who squeezed me a glass of fresh orange juice in their small café on the edge of the central square and found a talented jewelry maker who captures the tiny beautiful flowers of the region in Lucite to make her one-of-a-kind pieces. My wallet was a little lighter when I headed back to the Royal Clipper but my heart was definitely full.
As I strolled, I kept my eye on the tall masts of my ship in the harbor and as I did, I thought about her future. It’s hard to surrender top spot, but that’s just what the Royal Clipper is facing - and soon. Since her launch in 2000, Royal Clipper has been the world’s largest tall ship but in two years, she’ll have to move over to make room for a bigger sister.
The as yet to be named new ship will be launched in 2017 and will be the biggest and most ambitious project ever for the Star Clipper line. She’ll carry 300 guests and enjoy the wind power of more than 6,350 square meters of sails. A five-masted, square-rigged barque, the newcomer will be modeled on the France II, commissioned in 1911 - the largest square-rigger ever built.
This stunning new ship may take first place on the list of world’s biggest, but I’m a loyal sort and my heart will always belong to the first clipper who took me racing through the waves and introduced me to the heart-pounding excitement of wild winds captured in giant sails. Let others hail the coming of the new ship - Royal Clipper will always come first with me.