I’m at the start of my late-February Grenadine-island cruise aboard the Star Clippers line’s Royal Clipper. The line has two smaller vessels, but the Royal Clipper — inspired by a 1902 tall ship and built in Rotterdam by a Swedish firm — claims to be the largest full-rigged sailing ship in the world.
With five masts and 42 confusing sails, the 439-foot-long ship can hold 227 passengers and allows them to watch and help out (a little bit) as the crew raises and trims sails and as the captain or mates turn the oak wheel on the always-open bridge. Some of the onboard activities have a nautical theme, such as lessons in splicing lines or tying knots.
I’d expected quarters to be pretty tight below deck, but as we roll toward our next port, Union Island, I discover that my cabin, with its varnished wood paneling, twin beds and marble-trimmed bathroom, looks a lot like those I’ve had on larger cruise ships.
When the dinner bell rings, I find out that the ship has a three-deck atrium and a multilevel dining room at its core. Eerie shadows from above show off the fact that the atrium’s ceiling skylight doubles as the bottom of the swimming pool up on deck. Murals decorating the central staircase include the following:
●A boy in a sailor suit holding a spyglass
●Two seagulls perched on a railing
●A woman with enormous earrings serving fruit
“Nice, isn’t it?” says one of my tablemates, 73-year-old Gray Furey of Cincinnati, who, as a birthday present to himself, has signed on for his third Royal Clipper cruise. Furey has a pocket watch (“I just like them”) and a penchant for Stella Artois beer.
Asked why he has come back again, Furey doesn’t hesitate. “I remember watching the head bartender in the ship’s talent show,” he says. “He made the assistant bartender disappear. I’d never seen something like that so close.”
Turtles and chickens
Union Island’s Chatham Bay doesn’t look like much beyond a stretch of white-sand beach, but heading ashore on the Royal Clipper’s small, shuttle-like tender, I notice a few of the ship’s French passengers bent over the railing and peering closely at the shallow turquoise water.
“Une tortue!” one shouts, and suddenly we can all see swimming turtles, heads bobbing up above the water so that they can catch their breath.