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by Mike Machnicki - London - England

Star Clipper

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However much I enjoy details of other DIY projects and reports of how they sail, for me it is always refreshing when someone comes up with a new aspect of sailing for a Duckworks article. This is a report of a cruise on a clipper ship, I didn’t want it to be a travelogue, but rather to focus on the ship, and so have kept details of locations visited to a minimum. I hope you will also find this interesting.

The boats in this fleet sail in the Caribbean, the Baltic and the Mediterranean, the largest boat Royal Clipper appears to be quite a bit larger than the other two, but in fact in terms of crew and passengers is not that much bigger. The other ship is Star Flyer, which is identical to our ship Star Clipper except for the addition of heating, which we did not need, but as Star Flyer sail in the Baltic I guess this is a welcome addition for the spring and autumn cruises. Although they are called clippers I was told they would be more correctly called windjammers, as clippers are always made of wood whereas windjammers are metal hulled ships.  All the ships in the fleet are contemporary, having been made in the last 30 years, with Royal Clipper retaining the title of largest sailing ship in the world still to be sailing.

The wheelhouse located towards the front of the top deck
A view of the inside, hardly state of the art but it worked well

Our particular ship sails in the Caribbean in winter and Mediterranean in the summer, cruising between countries and islands. For the week we had available the cruise started and ended in Athens and the itinerary was:

Start Athens 12-May   leave 22:00
Day 1   At sea 13-May
Day 2   Rhodes 14-May
Day 3   Bodrum 15-May
Day 4   Dalyan River 16-May
Day 5   Santorini 17-May
Day 6   Hydra 18-May
Day 7   Athens 19-May   arrive 7:00 AM

Although weather intervenes the crew try to stick to this itinerary as much as possible and as they have done this a number of times before alternatives have evolved. For the Dalyan river trip where we visited the mud baths the weather was too rough to transfer in the bay to the flat bottomed river boats which only had a foot draft to get over the sand bar at the mouth of the river. We therefore put into the nearby port of Marmaris and had an enjoyable coach ride to Dalyan. Similarly on the last day it was too rough to anchor off Hydra so we were taken to nearby sheltered Poros and had a relaxing time wondering round the town and nearby Galatas. When I say it was too rough please don’t get the idea that there was a gale blowing, this was not the case, just a few ripples on the surface of the water making it difficult for the crew to transfer us to the tender.

The tender, we only used it on a couple of occasions as we were either on dock or had to use the local boats
Tender in relation to the main ship. The ship also carried 4 RIBs

Daily life
Most of the sailing was done at night, leaving in the evenings and arriving in the mornings. Although each day was spent in a different place the days seemed to take a comforting familiar regime. Wake up for me was about 06:00, by 07:00 I would be shaved and dressed and take my wife a cup for tea in bed, then have a stroll to see what was happening on deck. At 08:00 we would go to breakfast, which was self service. I would take a small fried breakfast followed by fruit and yoghurt, the dinning room staff were very friendly and remembered all our needs. I requested gluten free bread and no matter where I sat in the dinning room, or who I was served by, it would appear as if by magic, not only that but at the evening meal I would always be advised if what I ordered contained wheat flour (often only in the sauce, which the dish could be served without). Before arrival at the destination which was usually between 09:00 and 11:00 we had ‘Peter’s Story Time’. Peter was the cruise director who had an encyclopaedic knowledge on the places we visited. The stories consisted of snippets of useful information, Greek mythology and details of the remains that could be seen, all given an entertaining slant. When we arrived we were mostly on dock, but one time we anchored and one time the boat drifted the day coming in shore to pick up and drop of at specified times, that was Santorini where the water was too deep to anchor. Most of the day was spent sightseeing, either on the tours provided at a cost, usually one or occasionally two per day. The other option was to do your own thing. We only took two of the tours and the other days went our own way. Although lunch was available I find a large breakfast will last me till late afternoon when a cup of coffee and a piece of fruit will take me to dinner time.

Getting back to the boat was usually between 17:00 and 18:30, ready to have a wash and dress for dinner at about 19:30. This was the highlight of the culinary day, being a served meal with up to five courses and several choices of main course, plus the always present option of a steak and fries. Maître d’ would always try to place people on new tables so that guests got a chance to mingle, but this was not mandatory, some chose to stay in their travelling group. The food was always of a good standard, even the sword fish, which if overcooked can tend to go hard. After dinner there was entertainment, either by the crew or sometimes local entertainers if we were on the dock. There were three slide shows we attended and a couple of films, all related to sailing. One was even contributed by one of the passengers of his visit to Antarctica on his 42’ sailing boat, it was a very professional presentation which everyone enjoyed.

About the ship
The crew were a very mixed bunch, all of the ‘front of house’ crew were mainly from Northern Europe, with a few, including the most important man on the ship – yes you guessed it the chef – who came from various parts of Indonesia. The rest of the crew employed in manual work came from Indonesia or more commonly India. All were well dressed in appropriate uniform and all were very helpful and welcoming.

The captain introducing the crew at the start of the voyage

The ship operated a semi open boat policy, all questions you ask they will attempt to provide a best answer to but when I requested to visit the engine room the answer was ‘We cannot take people one by one, you must wait for the tour’.

The sails were hoisted by the crew with hydraulic assistance, a couple of times passengers were allowed to hoist a sail manually to get a feel for how hard the work was. There was a trip to the first crows nest on the fore mast, which was a very sanitised experience, guaranteed to be safe and free of litigation for the ship.

View from the lower crows nest
View of the lower and upper crows nest on the fore mast

I had a word with Peter, the Cruise Director, at the end of the trip: “What is the most difficult aspect of your job I asked”. “Well it can be pretty complex sometimes, if things go wrong with port clearances. In all cases you have to work through an agent, who is there to guarantee the port gets paid. In most cases it is a fast process taking no more than 30 minutes, in some cases the pilot gives clearance which can take less than one minute. But when it goes wrong it is a nightmare”. Thinking he was being polite I decided to prime him “It must be difficult dealing with passengers sometimes, particularly misunderstandings that different languages can cause”. “No. Not so much. I tend to find if you treat people well, they respond in the same way. It can be more difficult with the crew, consider that they are living four to a cabin smaller than yours with no shower attached and no window.  They are away from home for a year at a time trying to save as much as they can to take home with them.”

I could see their point, the officers had a good time mixing with the passengers, but the deck hands, who were always polite and well turned out were there to work, and work as hard as required – yet they all seemed cheerful, at least this week.

Technical details




360 feet


50 feet


18.5 feet

Sail Area:

36,000 Square feet

Mast Height:

226 feet

Total Staff:


Passenger Capacity:



4 masts, 16 sails


8,000 hp

Water consumption

50,000 litres / day


One of the two generators
The 8,000 hp engine. It was difficult to get a full view of the engine due to space and equipment

My impressions
Many people we have met rave about the cruises they have been on, others say they would not go again. For us this was our first cruise, and I must say an enjoyable and memorable experience. Many of the other passengers we talked to had sailed with this line before and also on larger ships. Most of them said they would not go back to larger ships where they felt they were herded like cattle in stampedes to get to the dinning room, to get to the transfer boats for shore and to get back on the ship. When we visited Santorini there were only two medium size cruise ships in the bay, which sometimes takes up to ten. Even with two the queues for the cable car and at the dock side were huge and did nothing to endear us to the idea of a large ship cruise. As a boat builder and sailor I felt that Star Clipper was about as big as I would like to go, and even this was far far bigger than I would aspire to owning.

A rigging screw, I had to reach up to take this picture, the whole screw was just under 6 foot long

What we particularly liked was the intimate size of the vessel and crew. We got to know the ‘front of house’ crew and they us, even though it was only a week. In total there were about 72 crew and 120 passengers. We got to know the passengers also and spoke to other couples many times. I suspect on a large cruise you would be yet more faceless passengers to the crew and would have had great difficult finding the passengers you spoke to last night at dinner amidst the throng in the dinning room.

Our dining room was small and cosy, yet still had plenty of room

Would I go again? Definitely yes, my wife was greatly taken with the whole experience, particularly the social aspects, and has suggested that we go again next year. If you want other reviews look here for more information, several people suggest it is not suitable for frail or disabled passengers, and for wheelchair access or if it gets rough I would totally agree.


Click HERE for a list of articles by Mike Machnicki

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