Passengers on Europa are encouraged to help sail the ship. // © 2018 Bark Europa
Feature image (above): Sea Cloud Cruises’ luxury owner’s suite // © 2018 Sea Cloud Cruises
For more than 5,000 years, seafarers have explored the world by wind power, and the breathtaking sensation of watching sails open and stretch until they catch the wind hasn’t waned. Today, the romance of a tall ship includes the feeling of being connected to generations of people who have sailed the seas.
Sailing ships attract travelers who wouldn’t normally cruise, don’t want to be labeled tourists and are lured by unusual itineraries. These ships have a strong appeal for people looking for an authentic experience; clients who sail as a hobby; adventurers; romantics; honeymooners; those who are celebrating anniversaries or other milestones; and cruisers who want to learn sailing skills.
Cruising under sail is akin to river cruising: Passengers tend to spend less time in their staterooms, instead opting to explore onshore and gather in lounges and on deck. Sailing ships range from luxurious — with per diems to match — to offering more basic experiences. Most have smaller accommodations than their motorized counterparts, few if any alternative restaurants (although the food may be exceptional) and little traditional entertainment. Most do not have elevators (Windstar Cruises’ Wind Surf is an exception), and many have raised doorway entrances — similar to private yachts, where you have to step high.
Besides being a unique product, sailing ships generally provide high-end trips with good commissions. While most commissions for sailing cruises generally start at 10 percent, there are variations by itinerary or season. Andando Tours/Angermeyer Cruises’ vessel, Mary Anne, for instance, offers commission from 15 to 25 percent.
Beth Schulberg, owner of Cruise and Travel Specialists in Oswego, Ore., sells Windstar and Star Clippers. She says she sees about half the Star Clippers ships filled with seasoned travelers — many are sailing enthusiasts who own their own boats at home and who love the congenial ambiance. With Windstar, Schulberg believes “the sailing yachts are the best value at sea for a small ship when compared to other luxury lines.”
One agent dedicated to cruising under sail is Dexter Donham, a lifetime sailor and former director of research and planning for Sitmar Cruises, former director of marketing for Princess Cruises and former vice president and general manager for Cruises of Distinction. He now owns Wellesley, Mass.-based Sailing Ship Adventures, a specialty travel service that offers cruises on more than 100 tall ships.
Donham books clients on upscale sailings with high-end Sea Cloud Cruises, as well as four-night Maine Windjammer cruises under $1,000. His website includes a selection of special interests, such as solo travel, navigation and seamanship training.
“There isn’t one tall ship experience,” he said. “You have to dig deeper to find out what the client wants from the cruise. There are ships where people can learn the basics of sailing, and cruises that are focused on having fun in the sun. There are even sailing cruises in Antarctica.”
Probably the best-known sailing ships are the three luxury yachts that make up half of Windstar’s fleet: the 148-passenger Wind Spirit and Wind Star, both launched in the late 1980s, and the 310-passenger Wind Surf, which has won awards for best dining, best cabins and more. All Windstar’s sails are computer-controlled.
Windstar is now the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation, and its ships provide an unusual number of choices in dining, including room service. Staterooms run 188 to 495 square feet and feature flat-screen televisions and DVD players, Bose SoundDocks and Wi-Fi access. The ships offer complimentary windsurfing, paddleboarding and more from their watersports platforms, and they tend to cater to a younger demographic than the line’s motor vessels. Honeymooners, in particular, are attracted to the line’s romantic offerings in Tahiti, the Greek Isles, the Caribbean and Costa Rica.
The onboard ambiance is casual, and Steve Simao, vice president of sales for Windstar, points out that guests can learn about sailing directly from the captain, as everyone is welcome on the open bridge.
Meanwhile, Sea Cloud is known for its luxury and glamorous history. The line gets five stars from Berlitz for its two tall ships: the original Sea Cloud, which was launched in 1931, lovingly rebuilt in 1979 and carries an amazing ratio of 65 passengers and 61 crew; and the 96-passenger (and 63 crew) Sea Cloud II, which was christened in 2001.
Both vessels cruise the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Anja Ringel, vice president of international marketing and sales for the line, points out that Sea Cloud — built as the world’s largest private yacht for American cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post — is essentially an outdoor ship with less public space, whereas Sea Cloud II is closer to a conventional cruise ship, with a watersports platform, fitness room and sauna. Both are sailed by hand in the traditional manner. They tend to attract experienced, cultured travelers who are 40 to 70 years old and are often owners of boats or yachts. Guest composition varies by cruise, but Ringel says all staff members speak English. Food and service receive high ratings, and the onboard culture can be described as “casual elegance.”
It’s important to note that Sea Cloud accommodations are highly individual and vary a great deal; there is detailed information on the line’s website. The original staterooms, connected to the library by a spiral staircase, have features such as walk-in closets, decorative fireplaces and antique furniture. Cabins One and Two have marble bathtubs and upscale furnishings. Bed configurations cannot be changed, so check carefully when you book clients.
With Star Clippers, owner Mikael Krafft says he is recreating the golden age of sailing. After launching the 170-passenger Star Flyer and Star Clipper in the early 1990s, in 2000, he introduced the 227-passenger Royal Clipper, modeled after the legendary 1902 Preussen. It currently holds the Guinness World Record as the largest square-rigged ship in operation, but it will be surpassed by Flying Clipper, due in late 2018. The 300-passenger Flying Clipper will have a range of modern amenities and facilities, including 34 balcony cabins and four owner’s suites. Similar to Windstar, watersports are also a major component of Star Clippers, with complimentary snorkeling, kayaking, sailing and other activities offered directly from the ship.
Terri Haas, vice president of sales for the Americas for Star Clippers, says the line’s market is much larger than most agents realize — and next year it will grow even larger.
“Every agent has a client for Star Clippers,” she said. “It’s a very broad demographic. We get a lot of younger honeymooners. Millennials love it because it’s unique, and solo travelers love it because of the friendly onboard culture. We get multigenerational groups, where the youngest clients are 8 or 10 years old, as well as active older cruisers.”
The line sees more than 60 percent return business, and passengers range from sailing buffs to anti-cruisers drawn by the unusual itineraries.
“Many are multimillionaires, although you’d never know it,” Haas said. “They dress very casually and join crew members in impromptu entertainment.”
Those who want to feel like they are sailing themselves should try Europa from owners Bark Europa and homeported in The Hague, Netherlands. It provides clients the extraordinary opportunity to sail in Antarctica on a tall ship and experience the polar landscape and wildlife like early explorers. Europa also cruises the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and even the U.S. Great Lakes.
Built in 1911 and fully restored in 1994, Europa carries 48 passengers — called “voyage crew members” — and a crew of 16 professionals. English is the onboard language, and everyone pitches in to help handle the sails, take the helm and navigate. Cruises tend to be long — three weeks or more — and the bonds made among the clientele is a large reason why people rebook.
The ship’s teakwood decks and rich mahogany set off the interior library, bar and cabins. There are 12 rooms: four for two passengers, four for four and four for six, all with private bathrooms.
The U.K.’s Jubilee Sailing Trust, is for travelers who want a life-changing adventure. Its mission is to empower people of all physical abilities through the challenge and adventure of sailing tall ships.
The company’s two ships — the 38-passenger Lord Nelson, which was launched in 1986, and the 40-passenger Tenacious, which debuted in 2000 as the largest wooden tall ship built in the U.K. in more than 100 years — sail the globe on cruises ranging from a single day to an unforgettable around-the-world trip.
More than 37,000 people, many with physical challenges, have sailed under the supervision of Jubilee’s professional crew. The ages of cruisers range from 16 to 90. The ships have wide flat decks; facilities that include wheelchair lifts between decks; a speaking compass; and hydraulic-power-assisted steering to enable people with limited strength or mobility to experience the thrill of steering a 586-ton sailing ship.
Passengers sleep dormitory-style in bunks, and eight cabins are available for wheelchair users and their assistants. Past passengers praise the food, but it is the inspiring companionship that generates the company’s exceptional reviews.
Sailing the Galapagos
Unlike other sailing ships, the 16-passenger Mary Anne, from Andando Tours/Angermeyer Cruises, stays in the Galapagos Islands, where the Angermeyer family has been hosting international clients for decades.
Mary Anne was built in 1997 and renovated in 2006; it consistently receives excellent reviews from travelers. Besides nine crew members, who mostly hail from the Galapagos, an English-speaking naturalist (sometimes a family member) is onboard. Guests learn how to tie knots and hoist the sails, and they hear island legends from the crew who grew up with them.
Mary Anne has a wood-paneled lounge with a bar; a library with a television; and a dining room. There are 12 staterooms — 10 with double berths and upper berths and two with only double berths — all with private bathrooms and portholes. The ship is popular with singles, as there is no supplement. Mary Anne also has kayaks onboard, as well as landing craft for exploring onshore.