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Royal Clipper
A Sailing Diary

The Beauty of Royal Clipper Under Sail

by Linda Coffman

Dress lights. That's what they are called, those bulbs outlining Royal Clipper's five masts and yardarms. I didn't know that until it was explained to me by a seasoned sailor. I didn't know what a yardarm was either. 

What I still don't know about true sailing could fill the 42 sails that power Royal Clipper, the world's largest full-rigged sailing ship. But I was eager to learn and thrilled to be sailing for a week-long cruise through the Grenadines on a ship I'd long admired from afar. Actually, her dignity and grace has inspired me for years. I've had her photo pinned to my office wall since she was launched.

Travel weary, I reached Barbados three airplanes, four airports, and twelve hours after leaving home. Nearing the cruise terminals in Bridgetown, though, I perked up. Once my taxi made the turn into the port I tried to spot Royal Clipper... the first ship was too small, the second one too orange. Around another corner and I gained a new appreciation for the term breathtaking. I was afraid that my first glimpse of Royal Clipper would be disappointing because it was dark. I couldn't have been more wrong--her dress lights set her profile apart from any other vessel.

Nearly speechless, I nevertheless recovered my composure long enough to hand over my single 22" rollaboard suitcase. Grasping my big tote bag, I was transfixed by the masts towering above the gangway. Due to my late arrival, the terminal was closed and I headed up the stairs to check-in on board. At eye level with the main deck, I caught a glimpse of passengers gathered around the Tropical Bar listening to the cruise director. At that point a cheery steward relieved me of the tote bag and led me to the Purser's desk for my key card/boarding pass and then to my nearby cabin. My rollaboard awaited unpacking as I examined my quarters.

Pack small for casual sailing--your closet is behind the mirrored door.

While in the planning stages, I was advised to "do carry-on" luggage if possible and I was glad I followed that advice. Resort casual attire is all that a Royal Clipper cruise requires and over-packing would result in stuffing too many unnecessary garments into a compact hanging locker and narrow bureau drawers. On my own for this cruise, there was plenty of room for my wardrobe.

Pleased that I had stowed my gear in short order, and not really hungry (we were served a meal on British West Indies Airline!), I headed topside for a cold drink and to await our 10pm departure and the raising of the sails. I found other like-minded passengers at the outdoor Tropical Bar, the hub of Royal Clipper's social activity, and was quickly welcomed into their circle. Seems I was in the minority as many passengers were repeaters to Star Clippers cruises.

After toasts to new friends, the good fortune to be together, and our good taste to have chosen Royal Clipper, everyone, first-timers and repeat passengers alike, headed up to the Sun Deck for sailaway. As the strains of Vangelis' symphony “1492: Conquest of Paradise” were piped over the PA system, the first of 42 sails unfurled. It was spine chilling. Other than the haunting music and the calls of the line handlers, there was absolute silence until every sail was in place.

As the wind carried us into the Atlantic, the waves put the anti-roll tanks and bilge keels (stabilizers) to the test. The result? A pronounced, but not unpleasant side-to-side roll... sufficient to insure that the bathroom floor would be wet after my shower and just enough to lull me to sleep afterwards.

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