The first glimpse of her, across the harbor in Civitavecchia, made my heart jump — how I love this ship.
And then our driver blew right past Royal Clipper . . . he was looking for, you know, A SHIP — one of the current behemoths carrying 3,000 passengers or more.
My sister and I were saying, “No, no — she was right there — go back, go back! Royal Clipper is a sailing ship!”
As we pulled even with her, I could understand the driver. Royal Clipper is diminutive in comparison to the Royal Caribbean ship just down the dock. She looks like she’s time traveled to sit between huge modern ships.
In an era when the mainstream cruise lines race one another to see who can have the largest ship, bigger has become the norm. Companies like Royal Caribbean build ships that look like a cross between resort hotels and shopping malls.
In comparison, the pure ship-ness of Royal Clipper is magical. I have enjoyed modern cruise ships, and I would definitely go on a regular cruise again. But having traveled on the large ships makes the experience of sailing on Royal Clipper even more amazing. It is so different. It is so special.
For people who love tall ships and sailing, Royal Clipper is a destination all by herself.
A destination, you say? But isn’t that huge Royal Caribbean ship just that? Rock climbing walls and zip lines and diving shows and an ice skating rink and Central Park and 20 dining venues? How could a little ship with one restaurant, no theater, and no wave pool be a destination?
Michael Kraft, the Swedish entrepreneur who founded Star Clippers, believed that people who loved sailing and tall ships wanted something different. The first two ships, Star Clipper and Star Flyer proved he was right. The Star Clipper experience is akin to being on a private yacht, and it’s offered at a price that is close to the cost of better mainstream cruises. Royal Clipper can anchor in small ports — in whatever part of the world she is sailing. It means her guests see things large cruise ships cannot offer.
The Star Clipper company likes to say, “small is beautiful.”
Royal Clipper, which launched in 2000, was modeled on the great ship, Preussen. Royal Clipper is 439 feet (133 m) long, with a beam of 54 feet(16.5 m), and she has 42 sails comprising 54,000 square feet of sail. 9 kilometers of steel ropes and 14 kilometers of regular rope hold the masts and rigging in place. She is only the second five masted full-rigged ship ever built, and she is the largest squared-rigged ship in the world. To be on her under full sail is extraordinary.
This cruise on the Royal Clipper in June of 2016 in the Mediterranean and Adriatic was my third cruise with the ship. In January of 2016, I spent one week sailing on her in the Windward islands, and liked it so much that I didn’t want to leave — so booked a second week and stayed onboard for the Grenadine Islands (Review of my southern Caribbean cruise is here: Onboard the Royal Clipper). Yes, I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. I am a big fan of the Star Clipper experience, but I am not alone. On any given Star Clippers cruise, 40% to 60% of the passengers are repeat customers which often means that half the ship attends the Captain’s champagne reception for returning passengers.
A very special part of taking a cruise with Star Clippers, is that with this small ship — the crew remembers you. Stewards, the bar staff, the spa masseuses — start to feel like family. My waiter Marlon gave me a big hug, “Miss Ann – you came back!” Well, of course I came back — how could I not?
How does the sailing experience in the Mediterranean compare with sailing in southern Caribbean? It was different. On this particular itinerary, we did not sail as much as we had in the Caribbean. Why? Two reasons. First, Royal Clipper is a square rigged ship. Square sails work best when the ship is sailing before the wind. Obviously the wind is not always going to come from directly behind the ship, which is why sailing ships tack back and forth. In parts of the Mediterranean with heavy shipping traffic, particularly ferries, this is not practical. We often had a combination of sail and engine going.
My sister and I shared cabin 116, a category 4 cabin, and we found it worked well. Staterooms on all Star Clippers ships are smaller than rooms on the big ships — obviously. It is more appropriate to compare the cabins on Royal Clipper to those on a yacht. There was ample storage and I found the marble bathroom very spacious for a sailing ship.
I have listed the approximate sizes of the Royal Clipper staterooms below..
|Owner’s Cabins||320 sq. ft. (39.7 m2)|
|Deluxe Suite||255 sq. ft. (23.6 m2)|
|Category 1||226 sq. ft. (21 m2)|
|Category 2, 3, 4**||148 sq. ft. (13.7m2)|
|Category 5||113 sq. ft. (10.5 m2)|
|Category 6||108 sq. ft. (10 m2)|
Cabin size: Please note: In categories 2, 3, and 4, there are exceptions to the average size of 148 square feet. Please look at the deck plans — you will see that as the ship tapers towards the front, the most forward cabins are slightly smaller. Also, cabins near the atrium vary. Be sure to verify with Star Clippers the exact size if it is important to you.
Sailing on Royal Clipper is an intimate experience. You are close to the water, not 5 to 10 stories above it. The ship’s bridge? As a passenger, you are right there. Time to raise the sails — move out of the way — the deck crew is on it! I have had friends ask whether passengers act as crew on Royal Clipper, and the answer is no. If you want to do the sailing yourself, you are looking for a different company. You may spend time asking the captain questions on the bridge, you might raise a glass of champagne as the ship sets sail, but you do not crew the ship.
What is there to do on the Royal Clipper? On most of their cruises, there are ports of call every day, so there is no time to get bored. On a day at sea, there are typically talks presented by the crew or the captain, and the Captain Nemo spa is always a treat. When we were in Sicily, a group of folk dancers came onboard following supper and entertained us with music and dancing.
For the brave of heart, there is mast climbing (with a safety harness) as ship sails. One of my favorite pastimes is riding in the widow’s net on the bowsprit of the ship, the water rushing just below me.
The food on Royal Clipper continued to be excellent on this trip in the very capable hands of Chef Rudy from the Philippines. The galley on Royal Clipper is the size of two standard state rooms, so approximately 300 square feet. And what a feat it is to serve the ship of 227 passengers and 105 crew! There are six meal offerings each day; in addition to the standard breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there is also an early bird breakfast, afternoon snack (British tea), and a midnight snack. Dinner is full-service, and the other meals are served as buffets. Each evening there is a selection of two appetizers, always a soup, a salad, at least four entrees — one of which is vegetarian, and the two desserts. Additionally, sirloin steak with pommes frittes and a pasta dish of some type is available every night. I found our server Marlon to be outstanding at selecting the best thing on the menu for the evening.
Interested in reading about the ports of call? Part II of the cruise is coming soon, with a focus on the ten ports we visited in the Mediterranean and the Adriatic.
History of the Clipper Ships
Clippers: the fast ships of the final period of the great age of sail. Even as the most famous clippers made their record setting voyages, it was obvious that steamships would soon make sailing obsolete for the shipping industry.
Narrow for their length and built for speed, clippers could not carry as much cargo as many 19th century ships, but they were fast. Very fast. Tall spars (masts) designed to carry massive quantities of sail meant these ships could “clip” the waves, and dramatically cut sailing time on long voyages. Think of them as express services for special cargo and passengers.
Tea clippers and opium clippers were designed to handle the two major cargos coming from China. Then the gold rush made fast travel between New York and San Francisco desirable. In 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill. Between 1848 and 1852, nearly 160 ships set sail from the east coast, bound for San Francisco. Pre-goldrush: only two ships per year made the trip from the Atlantic to San Francisco.
Long distance shipping: Early steam engines on ships were inefficient, ran at low pressure, and consumed a lot of fuel. Steamships couldn’t carry enough coal to make long ocean voyages and still have enough space for cargo to be commercially viable.
Then in 1869, the clipper trade with China collapsed. The Suez Canal opened, making it possible for steam ships to make the China run quickly. Sailing ships couldn’t get through the Suez without tugs to escort them — which was expensive and impractical. Steamships could carry more cargo, were more reliable than the sailing ships, and cost less to insure. Clipper ships continued to do service all over the world, but the numbers of them being built each year dropped dramatically. Transcontinental rail across America caused the clipper trade between the east and west coast to decline.
The Preussen (pronounced Proysin), built in 1902 was first five-masted fully rigged ship ever built. Under full sail, she was capable of 20 knots, making her faster than any steamship of the day. It was her speed that led to her untimely demise in the English channel. On November 5, 1910, a small British channel steamer, the Brighton, grossly underestimated Preussen’s 16 knot speed and attempted to cross in front of her bow. Preussen rammed the Brighton, causing severe damage to the sailing ship. She drifted onto the rocks under the cliffs of Dover. Gale force winds in the channel prevented her rescue.
Note: The Star Clipper’s new ship, Flying Clipper is due to launch in late 2017. Word from the crew on the Royal Clipper is that the build is running behind schedule, so perhaps early 2018 is more likely. She is modeled after the great ship, La France II, built in 1911. La France II was the largest merchant sailing ship ever built, and Flying Clipper will be bigger in beam than Royal Clipper. However, if Flying Clipper is a jubilee rigged ship (also known as a bald-rigged ship) like La France II was, she will lack the royal gallant sails above the upper top gallants, and then Royal Clipper would retain the title of the largest full-rigged ship in the world.
Planning to do a cruise from Civitavecchia?
We spent a week in Rome, pre-cruise: Beating the Crowds in Rome; you may find the information on seeing major attractions like the Colosseum and the Vatican helpful.
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More information on clipper ships and the Star Clippers company:
“Clipper Ship Cards.” American Antiquarian Society. American Antiquarian Society, 2012. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.
“Full-rigged Ship.” Full-rigged Ship. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2016.
Ross, Kelly L. “Masts and Sails.” Masts and Sails. N.p., 2013. Web. 07 Aug. 2016.
Royal Clipper: A Dream Come True. Dir. Tibor Somogyi. Prod. Alexander Von Sallwitz. 2001. DVD.
“Star Clippers – Americas.” Introducing Star Clippers. Star Clippers, n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2016.