“Oh wow, look at that one! Who owns that?!”
My friend Scott and I had finished walking part of the Cinque Terre and were relaxing in Portofino when we saw it: a huge white sailing ship with wind-filled white sails, cutting through the blue water. It looked like something out of a painting or storybook, and was so dramatic and beautiful that as I took photos of the mystery ship from afar I wondered who would be lucky enough to be onboard.
Flash forward a few years, and I am in the Cinque Terre again. But this time at the end of the day rather than finding a hotel I hop in a tender with a smile and am transported to the very ship I had admired from afar.
As it turns out the people lucky enough to be on that ship were passengers from around the world, people with a sense of adventure who wanted to see parts of the Mediterranean but not in the traditional cruise ship way. And this time I was amongst them.
Sailing on the World’s Tallest Tall Ships
Star Flyer, my beautiful home for the week, her sister ship Star Clipper and the ship that followed them, Royal Clipper are the realization of a childhood dream for Swedish entrepreneur Mikael Krafft.
As a young boy Krafft was obsessed with the clipper ships, and dreamed of one day putting them back in the water.
When Krafft decided to build a large sailing yacht to hold around 170 guests it was the first time a ship like his had been built in almost 100 years. As it was also the first time one had been built since the Titanic sank it meant it had a lot of extra challenges as far as stability and safety rules go. Something I’m sure I’m not the only passenger to appreciate.
The four-masted Star Flyer was launched in Ghent, Belgium in 1991. Her sister ship Star Clipper launched the following year, and both became the tallest tall ships in the world with masts rising 226 feet high.
In 2000 Krafft saw his five masted full rigger, Royal Clipper, set sail, and he’s currently having an even bigger sailing ship built, one that will become the biggest square rigged sailing ship in the world and carry 300 passengers in 150 cabins.
Today the sails and ropes on Star Clippers’ ships may be made of polyester fibers rather than the hemp of days gone by, and some electrical winches may be used for the sails, but Star Flyer and her sisters are still very much hands-on ships. The crew works kilometers of rope, and while the ship is motorized as our captain put it, he’s a sailor who loves to sail.
Whenever the conditions allow the engines are turned off and 36,000 square feet of sails are unfurled, a move that is accompanied to the sounds of Vangelis’ “Conquest of Paradise” to add even more drama to the moment.
One of the things I loved is the way you really know you’re sailing on Star Flyer. Not having much sailing experience myself I loved the way she could cut through the water so smoothly when the water seemed so choppy outside.
That said there were a few times when you really could feel her rocking and I was happy I don’t suffer from seasickness as there were some green gills around.
My travelling buddy Ronnie and I may have squealed quite loudly the first time the porthole in our cabin was hit by a wave. The sudden change from blue sky to what looked like the inside of a washing machine at our porthole was shocking at first, but after I reminded myself that the ship would have been through much worse and that the porthole was designed to withstand exactly that sort of wave I came to enjoy it. Bang, swoosh, washing machine fun!
Passenger Comforts Onboard Star Flyer
Whereas some tall ship sailing experiences are training ships where you sleep in bunks and learn how to sail the ship, here you have a comfortable private cabin and don’t have to do any work at all, though you can play at sailor by climbing the mast at certain times, and under supervision.
Our cabin came with two single beds, a closet with a decent amount of hanging space and shelves, a small seat and a stool. The bathroom was compact and a certain dance had to be done with the shower curtain when the water was on, but that was all part of the adventure.
There are lots of stairs and ledges to step over and no elevators on board, which added to the fact that you’ll be getting in and out of rocking tenders means it’s not the best for those with mobility difficulties.
That said, we did have a sprightly 96 year old man on board who was there with his wife in her 80s and their children. Passengers came from around the world with Americans, Germans, Dutch, French, English, Australians and more, and ages varied from the occasional teenager through people from every decade, with the majority in their 50s and 60s.
Meals are served in the large dining room where most tables sat six and you could meet new people over the generous breakfast and lunch buffets or as you sat down to an a-la carte dinner. Before going down to dinner we could not only see the menu but a sample dish on display in the bar area so we could tell which dish we really wanted to eat the most.
There is a library, with a small but very good selection of books. I happily found a couple I loved reading, Girl On A Train (yes yes, I was late to that one but loved it) and Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood.
There are two small pools on board, though with portholes in the base of one of them showing everyone in the lounge area the bottom half of whoever was in the pool I wasn’t in the biggest of rushes to get in that one. The water was also a bit cool for me (I’m a wuss with cold water!) but one brave lady was happy to hop in and splash about.
The bar was not surprisingly a very popular spot to be, and is where talent nights and other activities were held. Drink prices were very reasonable indeed, and usually the same price or cheaper than what you’d find in port, so we managed to avoid bill shock at the end of the week with that one.
And for those like me who love a good massage, there is a small spa area on board. As the masseuse worked her magic on my muscles I loved feeling the movement of the water below me. As I said goodbye to the knots in my back I smiled as I thought of the knot tying lessons that had been taking place on board.
Monaco Grand Prix Trials and Star Flyer’s Ligurian Sea Stops
When trying to choose which Star Flyers trip to do one thing really stood out. The Monaco Grand Prix Trials.
I love Monaco. In the past I have flown into Monaco by helicopter (which can be the same price as a taxi!) and also spent a couple days there before joining a Med cruise on Azamara Quest, but this is the first time I’d arrived by tall ship, and my first time being there during Grand Prix time.
Tickets to the trials are not part of the ship package, so you are free to make your own arrangements. My top tip is to do as we did and get a ticket to lunch at Salon Bellevue, the top floor of Cafe de Paris on the Place du Casino.
The tribune, which is what they all the seating stands, on the same square is the most expensive in the city and costs 550 euro on the Sunday. That’s to sit in a stand with no food and drink or shade and when you want to go to the toilet you have to leave the stand area to get to them.
Lunch at Salon Bellevue cost 120 Euro on the Thursday during the trials, and goes up to 295 on the Sunday, and included exclusive access to the rooftop balcony area which looks over the same iconic square as those stands, along with a generous and very tasty hot and cold buffet lunch, wine, soft drinks, and your nice clean bathrooms are right there.
For less than the cost of sitting in a stand on the other side of same square? I know where I’d rather be.
It was pretty exciting to be there for the first time and watch and hear those cars in real life.
But of course there was more to the week than Monaco. We started in Cannes during a little thing called the Cannes Film Festival, (you’ll want to arrive the night before and book your hotel well in advance to enjoy that one!), and also visited Elba and Lerici in Italy, and St Tropez before returning to Cannes. BTW if you’re looking for a great hotel to stay at in Cannes, check out the Small Luxury Hotel, Le Grand Hotel Cannes.
It is worth keeping in mind that sometimes schedules do have to change to keep on the right side of sea conditions, and some were disappointed when we had to miss the small port of Bonifacio, but as the sea was too rough to be able to safely tender I was more than happy with a sea day that day.
A day to lie back, relax and watch and feel the ship sail through the water. It turns out it is just as wonderful as it looked from afar years ago.
Amanda Woods travelled as a guest of Star Clippers but all opinions remain her own.
I’m also sharing my adventures on Snapchat, so say g’day if you use it too. @TheAmandaWoods