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Royal Clipper: A must-do sailing

January 12, 2009

In an age of behemoth cruise ships, a 227-passenger vessel has emerged from sailing's Golden Era to wow travelers.

Royal Clipper, launched in 2000, was inspired by the German tall ship Preussen which sailed over a century ago.

And, while she may indeed be dwarfed by her mega-ship counterparts, Royal Clipper still holds the proud distinction of being the largest fully-rigged sailing ship and only five-masted sailing vessel in the world.

Article Photos

Image courtesy Michael Coleman

The majestic Royal Clipper departs St. Lucia, under full sail, at sunset.

The sight of 42 sails unfurling before your eyes, with a glorious Caribbean sunset as a backdrop, is one of cruising's more memorable moments. A healthy roster of repeat guests will be quick to point out that a Royal Clipper voyage is, however, not so much a cruise as it is a sailing experience.

The ship departs weekly from Barbados and charts courses through the Windward and Leeward islands.

Want to be a deck hand for periods of time during the voyage? No problem. Passengers can assist the crew on sail duty or simply enjoy the power of Mother Nature as she propels the 439-foot ship through the water.

If wind conditions are right - the ship does have a pair of engines - it's not uncommon on a typical voyage to enjoy two port calls per day. Trips to remote southern Caribbean beaches, via ship's tender, are memorable. Complimentary water sports are offered in each port from the ship's recreation platform.

Life onboard is as modern and comfortable as that of any major yacht or cruise ship. It features comfortable cabins complete with marble bathrooms, a cozy dining room and a host of nautical appointments. If you don't allow yourself the opportunity to be transported back in time while onboard, the majestic sails, rich wood paneling and brass fixtures will - after a few days - do it for you.

Most passengers are from Europe - the vessel is based in Luxembourg and onboard currency is the Euro - although many Americans admittedly stumbled into respective bookings, intrigued by the ship, the romance of moon-lit warm seas and the promise of a voyage like no other.

Such a trip, it seems, also brings out the best in people. The ambience alone, especially under unfurling sails in the open seas, produces a camaraderie between passengers so often lacking on other vessels.

German, British, French, Canadian and U.S. guests warmly welcomed each other daily, hopping from Tropical Bar stool to another as afternoons wore on plotting the next day's shore excursion opportunities and did so again during refined meal offerings in the main dining room. Home and e-mail address swapping rarely occurred at the end of the voyage it happened days into it.

Royal Clipper's birth was the dream of Swedish entrepreneur Mikael Krafft. His fleet of three windjammers the 170-passenger Star Flyer and 170-passenger Star Clipper have been sailing the globe since 1997.

Royal Clipper will remain in the Caribbean through April when she re-positions for a May-October schedule in the western Mediterranean. She returns to the Caribbean in November.

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