Star Clippers prides itself on its brand loyalty, as 60 percent of its business comes from repeat clients. // © 2016 Star Clippers Cruises
Feature image (above): Star Clippers’ newest vessel, set to debut in 2017, will carry 300 passengers and be the largest square-rigged vessel in the world. // © 2016 Star Clippers Cruises
When Star Clippers’ Royal Clipper sails into port, the tall ship is as big an attraction for the locals as the destination is for passengers. From the shore, the ship appears to be made entirely of its 42 square sails that dwarf the wood, steel and polished brass that lies beneath.
The cruise line makes the romance of the tall ship available to sailing enthusiasts — and they have responded with extreme brand loyalty (and about 60 percent repeat business) to the pride and joy of Mikael Krafft, the Swedish founder of the company who vowed in boyhood to bring the glorious square-rigged ships back to the world. His three-ship fleet includes the full-rigged Royal Clipper and two 170-passenger barkentines, Star Clipper and Star Flyer. The greatest sailing vessel yet is in the works for 2017.
Launched in the early 1990s, the 170-passenger Star Flyer and Star Clipper were the first clipper ships since 1911 to be granted the certificate of Sailing Passenger Vessel by Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. They were followed in 2000 by the 227-passenger Royal Clipper, the largest true sailing clipper in the world, designed after the legendary five-masted Preussen windjammer.
In his childhood, Krafft haunted Stockholm yacht builder Plyms Shipyard, riding his bicycle there to absorb the history of the wooden ships, the craft of mixing marine varnish and a passion for sailing boats. Given a small wooden sailboat at a very early age, he was permitted to sail and camp around the Stockholm archipelago. He was forbidden to sail on the open sea, an edict he violated to get to the Aland Islands and the four-masted barkentine Pommern, a museum ship. His passion for tall ships has not only led to a very successful niche cruise business, but also satisfied the dreams of many people who cannot build or buy a tall ship themselves.
Onboard Royal Clipper, upscale guests — many of them converts from conventional luxury lines — enjoy Krafft’s preferred yachting experience, which he characterizes as rolling up your sleeves rather than putting on a dinner jacket. Passengers have close contact with the international sailing crew, meeting them for lessons in ship operation and sharing their talents with one another for evening entertainment. The visits to uncrowded, unusual smaller ports are a very popular aspect of the experience; Star Clippers ships go where larger vessels cannot.
When Royal Clipper is ready to depart and the ropes strain in a webwork across the deck as the sails unfurl above — accompanied by composer Vangelis’ theme from the movie “1492: Conquest of Paradise” — passengers happily give up whatever they are doing to be on deck. YouTube is filled with videos of guests taking a turn at the ropes, climbing the mast to the crow’s nest (under very careful supervision) or sunning themselves in the net at the bowsprit.
Now based in Monaco, Krafft is by no means finished. In 2017, he will launch an even bigger ship than Royal Clipper, this one crafted after the 1912 France II sailing ship, with an identical rig and more than 68,000 square feet of sail, carrying 300 passengers in luxury far beyond its model.
Under construction in Split, Croatia, the yet-to-be-named newbuild will be the largest square-rigged vessel in the world, with 150 cabins, including 34 balcony cabins and four owner's suites. Bookings open this year, and the ship will sail in the Mediterranean in summer and the Caribbean in winter.
Passengers on the Royal Clipper sailing this past December were already making plans to book the new ship. Once again, Krafft, moving from the scale models of his boyhood to updated replicas, is bringing along with him the increasing numbers of people hooked on the great sailing ships.