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Saturday, 01 March 2014 00:00

Star Clippers

Written by  Phyllis Cocroft

My appetite for sailing was whetted in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, watching occasional four or five-masted schooners sail by, bound from Maine to New York. They looked magical and romantic, with all sails set. Enthusiasm for traveling began on trans-Atlantic voyages aboard the France and the Queen Mary in the 1950s. Though both liners were old then, a five- or six-day transatlantic crossing was never long enough when the moon shimmered on the dark sea at night and the occasional whale was spotted.

I have traveled insatiably ever since, but somehow, I had always missed Gibraltar and Tangier. When I read that the four-masted, 360-foot brigantine, Star Flyer, was going on a week-long cruise last September from Lisbon to Malaga with stops in Portimao, Portugal; Cadiz, Spain; Casablanca and Tangier in Morocco, Gibraltar, and Malaga, Spain, I booked the journey, leaving early to explore Lisbon, always a favorite city.

Just before sunset on the day of sailing, I found the Star Flyer. She was hard to miss with her four tall masts- even on Lisbon’s busy waterfront. Bremen-born Capt. Klaus Muller greeted his 147 passengers at an opening reception. (The ship’s capacity is 170). Throughout our cruise, he remained a friendly as well as competent presence. Often just before dinner, while Star Flyer’s sails snapped in the wind and the sky grew crimson, he would be out on deck playing the bagpipes, an art he had learned when his home base was in Scotland. And he would also give morning lectures on the intricacies of navigation and the importance of protecting the sea. (Last year, Star Clippers America, owner of the Star Flyer, was named both the World’s Leading Sailing Cruise Company and the World’s Leading Green Cruise Line at the 20th annual World Travel Awards in Qatar.)

We often made our way under sail, and many a passenger simply enjoyed lounging on deck beneath those billowing white sails, watching the deckhands manage them. I often found myself simply staring out at the endless blue sea and sky by day and watching the seabirds overhead. At night, I would search for Orion’s belt in the starry sky, listen to the wind in the rigging, and follow the moon path on the velvet sea.

Some passengers preferred, even when in port, staying aboard sunning; then cooling off in one of the two mini pools; taking afternoon tea or having a drink rather than going on a land excursion. I chose to see the sights I had not seen before.

I enjoyed Cadiz, founded by the Phoenicians, and said to be the oldest city in Europe. It was from Cadiz that Columbus set sail on his second visit to the New World. Because I had decided on a land excursion from Cadiz to Seville, however, I saw little more of Cadiz than its great domed baroque cathedral and a few of its 18th century merchants’ homes.

In Tangier, fellow passengers and I found a guide on the pier who offered his services for less than the guided tour from the ship. We learned from him that the gleaming white city at the west end of the Strait of Gibraltar was known as the Gateway to Africa. We were proudly shown the city’s Kasbah and Medina.

When we reached Gibraltar, at the entrance to the Mediterranean, I found that small English outpost adjacent to Spain to be fascinating. A shore excursion took me to the top of Gibraltar’s high rock. There, an informative guide recounted its history as a World War II naval base. He led the way through former barracks and a hospital and many tunnels, all cut deep into the limestone rock and, outside, I watched Barbary ape families grooming themselves. Legend has it that when there are no longer apes on Gibraltar, the rock, which has belonged to Britain since 1704, will no longer be English.

Star Flyer meals, with few exceptions, were tasteful and few passengers opted to eat on land. There was an early bird breakfast in the piano bar, followed by a full breakfast buffet in the restaurant At lunchtime, a dining room buffet offered both hot and cold dishes. In mid-afternoon, tea was available, and dinner was graciously served by waiters in the dining room in the evening, and a midnight snack in the piano bar.

The ship offered mast climbing, morning stretching exercises, and water exercises in the pools. Although there was no spa, massage was available. Evening entertainment included fashion shows and dance demonstrations put on by the crew.

Cabins varied from luxurious ones with portholes or full ocean views, twin beds or a double bed, to tight ones with bunk beds and no porthole. The cost of the six-day, seven-night cruise ranged from $2,995 to $5,995 per person.

The Lisbon to Malaga cruise I took on the Star Flyer has been reduced to only five days this year and is already fully booked, but there are many other inviting ones - transatlantic and Caribbean crossings, sails along the French coast and in the Balearic Islands; a voyage in the Tyrrhenian Sea with a stop in Monaco at the time of the Grand Prix trials, and many more. I’d take any of them, if I knew that the winds would be right; the sails set; the seas calm, the sun out by day and the stars at night.

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