Trip Feature: Star Clipper Tall Ship Cruise

I’m a big fan of Patrick O’Brian, the author of “Master and Commander” and 19 other novels in the Aubrey-Maturin series.

They take place on the high seas at the time of the Napoleonic wars; Jack Aubrey is the captain of a tall ship; Stephen Maturin is his surgeon, friend and naturalist, like Charles Darwin.

In August I had the chance of my dreams to sail a similar four-masted boat, a “barquentine” named Star Clipper with a full set of shrouds, shrouds, jibs, parrots, mizzens and dinghies. a spanking.

It has been transformed into a cruise ship that accommodates 166 souls plus staff. With a wooden deck and wheel, brass rails, bundles of ropes and rigging, it’s a very different experience from those huge cruise liners like floating towers.

The seven-day cruise started in Civitavecchia, a two-hour train ride from Rome, and sailed to Sicily, passing volcanic islands, returning via Amalfi, Sorrento and Ponza.

Each day started and ended with a yoga class. I didn’t know it was so hard to maintain a balancing pose when rocking on calm seas, but it was exhilarating to climb the rig, steer the boat, and read a book while laying back on hammocks above the bow. At night, I watched the stars, looking so clearly, uninterrupted by light pollution.

I watched us arrive in port through the round window of my paneled cabin, listening to seven bells (dinner time) ringing in the hallways. Every time I opened my door, a steward’s head popped out and asked if I needed help. I felt blessed to have my cabin tidied three times a day, my nightgown folded and a chocolate left on my pillow. Every night a ship news bulletin is stuck in the door, alerting us to morning yoga or Italian classes.

We dined every evening at the same table, getting to know passengers who seemed to be mainly German and French. Someone always had a birthday. The waiters brought cake and everyone sang and clapped. Who knew the Germans had a different melody for Happy Birthday?

My table consisted of a tanned Frenchman who turned out to be a crooner at a talent party; an older German couple who spoke excellent English; two middle-aged Welsh ladies; and an American who never spoke. She celebrated her 52nd birthday on the second night, but still looked miserable. Then she disappeared from mealtimes. I asked the waiter if she was ok and said she was there for lunch.

I found out her cabin number and visited her after hearing that she had fallen out of bed. Still in her pajamas and slightly sleazy, she admitted she had enthusiastically taken to the cocktails, cheap at five euros a glass. “Don’t be a stranger,” I said sharply.

The German couple had just married after 16 years together. It was his second marriage.

“His kids don’t know,” the mother-in-law announced with a wink.

“Wait till they see the will,” I mumbled. The Welsh lady opposite chuckled.

There was something rather Agatha Christie about sharing a table with the same group of strangers. The next time I saw the American, she suddenly looked very green and threw up on the carpet, even though the sea was calm.

Work never stops on a ship. While we went on excursions, the crew sewed sails on deck, used a giant industrial sewing machine or sandblasted and refinished the rails. In Messina, we docked next to a ten-storey cruise ship. The men were painting the exterior white with brooms, as part of the relentless maintenance. In a nod to modernity, our sailors water the wooden decks rather than scrub them. It is an international and multilingual group, a Belgian captain, a second Ukrainian and a director of Brazilian activities.

Approaching Messina, we saw volcanic mountains on the horizon, tinged with blue and salmon pastels, and the glowing sparkles of Stromboli.

At dawn, I stepped onto the deck in my nightgown, mistaking myself for Kate Winslet, before the sun launched its merciless ramp upwards.

In Amalfi, I took a boat to Minori, the village of my Italian ancestors, and took pictures of where my great-grandmother lived. Chef Gennaro Contaldo came from Minori and stayed with my nonna when he arrived in England. Jamie Oliver took cooking lessons with another close friend of mine, Enzo, 79, and Maria, 76, who run a agritourism above Minori. From their terrace I ate their local produce of homemade tomatoes, mozzarella, red wine and olive oil, I could see Star Clipper in the distance and I was pretty proud of it.

“It’s my ship,” I declared.

A 7-night Mediterranean cruise in summer 2023 starts at £1630 pp full board, based on 2 adults sharing a category six cabin. This price includes a 10% Early Booking discount, valid until 31 January 2023, bookable through the Star Clippers Reservations team on 0845 200 6145. Drinks, excursions and gratuities are extra. https://www.starclippercruises.co.uk/ships/star-clipper

About Juana Jackson

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