Star Clipper: she’s a star

By Lew Toulmin

by Lew Toulmin

Star Clipper is a ship that’s unique — except that she has a twin, along with a new, larger sister, with an even larger sister on the way.

While most cruise ships cruise under power, the focus of Star Clipper, her twin, Star Flyer, and the larger Star Clipper is on cruising under sail, with style and luxury. These ships are perfect for experienced sailors seeking more comfort than what is provided by the typical sailboat or for nonsailors who want to find out about the romance of sail.

The 3-ship cruise line is the brain child of 60-year-old Swedish entrepreneur and sailing enthusiast Mikael Krafft, who was born and raised near a shipyard and who loved tall ships from the age of six. In 1991 he found a Belgian shipyard in financial trouble and submitted plans for his 360-foot dream ship, the Star Clipper, thus saving the yard and fulfilling his dream.

A year later he worked the same financial and planning magic and produced the twin vessel, Star Flyer. In 2000 he built the world’s largest square-rigged sailing ship, the Star Clipper, 439 feet long. This vessel is larger even than the great Russian sail training ship Sedov, formerly the world’s largest.

The vessel

When my wife, Susan, and I sailed aboard the Star Clipper on a week-long cruise through the northeastern Caribbean in January of 2006, I found the experience impressive, romantic, enjoyable and uplifting.

The twin ships Star Clipper and Star Flyer sailing side by side. Photo courtesy of Star Clippers

My first impression was of the size of the vessel. With four masts towering up to 226 feet high, a beam of 50 feet, four guest decks and up to 170 guests, the ship is huge by normal sailboat standards. But the profile of the ship is graceful and swan-like, with the long, very horizontal bowsprit and raked masts adding to the drama of the 16 snow-white sails. The ship is a barquentine, with a foremast rigged with square sails and the other three masts rigged with fore-and-aft sails.

Inside, the vessel looks like it was built yesterday, not 15 years ago. Beautiful brown varnished wood trim contrasts nicely with the white walls and nautical décor of the public rooms and cabins.

Our attractive cabin was about 12 by 10 feet, with two single beds that could be pushed together to form a double. There was plenty of storage under the bed and in closets, bureaus and a small desk. Two round portholes gave us a view of the sea.

Our shower was excellent and produced plenty of hot water. This was quite a contrast to my first tall ship, Romance, where a “Navy shower” required the suffering passenger to vigorously pump ice-cold water with one hand while lathering with the other! The desalinization system aboard Star Clipper produces enough fresh water so that water rationing is never required.

Under sail

Getting underway, music from Vangelis’ film score for “1492: Conquest of Paradise” is played as the sails are raised. The music, the huge sails (40,000 square feet, almost the size of a football field) and the setting sun create a fantastically romantic atmosphere that invites passenger participation.

According to cruise director, Frederic Jansen, “Passengers can, if they like, help with raising the sails, take the wheel and steer the ship, learn knot-tying, tour the bridge and engine room, and chase the ship in tenders to get sunset pictures of the vessel under full sail. Passengers can even climb the mast to the lower yard and, on special request, can go out on the yards or go higher on the mast. Or they can lay back, just watch and sip drinks.”

While cruising, I was impressed with the lack of rolling and with the upright carriage of the ship, even under sail. Jansen explained, “The ship is designed with stabilization tanks on both sides. These are filled with water, and pumps move the water to the higher, upwind side. This reduces roll and also keeps the ship close to level. Nonsailors affected by motion greatly appreciate this feature.”

The diesel engines are used for maneuvering when the ship is becalmed and also to help keep scheduled stops. We found that the engines were used about 30% of the time. The ship generally sails at night, leaving most days free for shore excursions.

Life on board

There are no casinos, theaters or large public dance halls on board. Instead, entertainment at night is usually held on the open decks amidships, with a large canvas awning providing protection from passing showers. Typical entertainment includes live music, provided by a small band; a crab race; a fashion show; a crew talent show, and a passenger talent show, or sometimes lack-of-talent show! I sang two sea shanties at the passenger talent show, but whether this qualified as talent or lack of talent I’m not sure.

Ship’s passengers relaxing on the “Star Clipper’s” bowsprit while under way. Photo: Lew Toulmin

Meals are open seating at any time. This allows passengers to freely choose their dining companions and make new friends, if they like — a delightful system. There are no formal dress nights. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style, and there is very friendly and professional table service at dinner. The food ranges from good to excellent, with an emphasis on European-style dishes and fresh fruit and salads.

Star Clipper and Star Clipper sail in the western Mediterranean in the summer and, respectively, in the northeastern and southeastern Caribbean in the winter. They transit transatlantic in May and October.

Star Flyer sails off western Thailand and Malaysia in the winter and in the eastern Mediterranean in summer, transiting through the Suez Canal in March and October. Passengers looking for less crowded sailings and good deals might try the transits (with daily rates discounted about 30%-40%) and the sailings off Thailand.

For those lucky travelers who have already tried all three vessels, plans are afoot to build a ship even larger than the Star Clipper in the next couple of years. I can’t wait!

Star Clippers is based in Monaco but has offices in several countries, including in the U.S. at 7200 NW 19th St., Ste. 206, Miami, FL 33126; phone 305/442-0550 or, for reservations, 800/442-0551 or visit

Lew and Susan Toulmin paid for their airfares, shore excursions, drinks and tips as well as $750 for Susan’s passage on the “Star Clipper.” A similar week-long cruise in the Mediterranean in the fall of 2006 would cost about $2,245 per person, not including airfare.