Sail-Cruise Ships - Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)

Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)

Sail-Cruise Ships

Want to be free as the wind? Think about cruising under sail, with towering masts, the creak of the deck, and gleaming white sails to power the boat along.

There’s simply nothing that beats the thrill of being aboard a multi-mast tall ship, sailing under thousands of square feet of canvas through waters that mariners have sailed for centuries. This is cruising in the traditional manner of seafaring, aboard authentic sailing ships, contemporary copies of clipper ships, or high-tech cruise-sail ships. But it gives you a genuine sailing experience while keeping creature comforts.

Mealtimes apart, there are no rigid schedules, so life aboard can be liberatingly unstructured. Weather conditions may often dictate whether a scheduled port visit will be made or not, but passengers sailing on these vessels are usually unconcerned. They would rather savor the feeling of being at one with nature, albeit in a comfortable, civilized setting, and without having to do the work themselves. The more luxurious sailing ships are the closest most people will get to owning their own mega-yacht.

Real tall ships

While we have all been dreaming of adventure, a pocketful of designers and yachtsmen committed pen to paper, hand in pocket and rigging to mast, and came up with a potpourri of stunning vessels to delight the eye and refresh the spirit. Examples are Royal Clipper, Sea Cloud, Sea Cloud II, Star Clipper, and Star Flyer - all of which have beautiful retro decor to convey the feeling of yesteryear and a slower pace of life.

Of these, Sea Cloud, built in 1931, restored in 1979, and adapted to satisfy the latest international safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations in 2011, is the most romantic sailing ship afloat. It operates under charter for part of the year, and sails in both the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. A kind of stately home afloat, Sea Cloud remains one of the finest and most exhilarating travel experiences in the world.

The activities are few, so relaxation is the key, in a stylish but unpretentious setting. The food and service are good, as is the interaction between the 69 passengers and 60 crew members, many of whom have worked aboard the ship for many years. One bonus is the fact that a doctor is available on board at no charge for emergencies or seasickness medication.

Although passengers may be able to participate occasionally in the furling and unfurling of the sails, they are not permitted to climb the rigging, as may be possible aboard some of the other, more modern tall ships. A modern interpretation of the original Sea Cloud - named Sea Cloud II, was built and introduced in 2001.


Wind Surf offers extensive water-sports facilities.

Douglas Ward

Contemporary sail-cruise ships

To combine sailing with push-button automation, try Club Med 2 (Club Mediterranée) or Wind Surf (Windstar Cruises) - with five tall aluminum masts, they are the world’s largest sail-cruise ships - and Wind Spirit and Wind Star (Windstar Cruises), with four masts. Not a hand touches the sails; they are computer-controlled from the navigation bridge.

The traditional sense of sailing is almost absent in these ocean-going robots, because the computer keeps the ship on an even keel. Also, some people find it hard to get used to the whine of the vessels’ generators, which run the lighting and air-conditioning systems 24 hours a day.

From a yachtsman’s viewpoint, the sail-to-power ratio is poor. That’s why these cruise ships with sails have engine power to get them into and out of port. The Sea Cloud and Star Clipper ships do it by sail alone, except when there is no wind, which doesn’t happen all that often.

On some itineraries, when there’s little wind, you could be motor-powered for most of the cruise, with only a few hours under sail. The three Windstar Cruises vessels and one Club Med ship are typically under sail for about 40 percent of the time.

The Windstar ships carry mainly North Americans and the Club Med vessel mainly French speakers.

Another slightly smaller but chic vessel is Le Ponant. This three-mast ship caters to just 64 French-speaking passengers in elegant, yet casual, high-tech surroundings, advancing the technology of the original Windstar concept. The ship made news in 2008 when its crew was held to ransom by pirates off the Somali coast; no passengers were on board at the time.


The beautiful Sea Cloud.

Sea Cloud Cruises

When the engine cuts in

So, do you get to cruise under sail most of the time? Not really. Aboard the ships of Sea Cloud Cruises and Star Clippers, because they are real tall ships, you could be under sail for most of the night when the ships are under way, as long as there is wind, of course, and on the days or part days at sea.

The ship’s small engine is used for maneuvering in and out of port. In the Caribbean, for example, the trade winds are good for most of the year, but in the Mediterranean the winds are not so potent. But many passengers enjoy helping to furl and unfurl the sails, and being able to climb the rigging (if allowed onboard). Lying in the netting under the ship’s bows is a memorable experience.

Aboard the ships of Windstar Cruises, however, the itineraries are so port-intensive that the computer-controlled sails are hardly ever used today - so the experience can be disappointing.

How to measure wind speeds

Understanding wind patterns is important to sailing ships, but the numbering system for wind velocity can confuse. There are 12 velocities, known as ‘force’ on the Beaufort scale, devised in 1805 by Sir Francis Beaufort, an Irish-born hydrographer and officer in Britain’s Royal Navy. It was adopted internationally in 1874 as the official means of recording wind velocity. They are as follows, with descriptions of the ocean surface:

Force 0 (0-1mph): Calm; glassy (like a mirror).

Force 1 (1-3mph): Light wind; rippled surface.

Force 2 (4-7mph): Light breeze; small wavelets.

Force 3 (8-12mph): Gentle breeze; large wavelets, scattered whitecaps.

Force 4 (13-18mph): Moderate breeze; small waves, frequent whitecaps.

Force 5 (19-24mph): Fresh breeze; moderate waves, numerous whitecaps.

Force 6 (25-31mph): Strong breeze; large waves, white foam crests.

Force 7 (32-38mph): Moderate gale; streaky white foam.

Force 8 (39-46mph): Fresh gale; moderate waves.

Force 9 (47-54mph): Strong gale; high waves.

Force 10 (55-63mph): Whole gale; very high waves, curling crests.

Force 11 (64-73mph): Violent storm; extremely high waves, froth and foam, poor visibility.

Force 12 (73+mph): Hurricane; huge waves, thundering white spray, visibility nil.