Thomas Patterson throws away his harpoon (and nautical literary references) to chill out on the deck of the world’s biggest five-mast ship.
Keats and Byron, Coogan and Brydon – all have romanticised in verse or sitcom the Amalfi Coast, that gorgeous scoop of coastline that sweeps down Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula. Byron toured Amalfi in a magnificent carriage based on Napoleon’s own, whilst comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon ate their way across the region in the show ‘The Trip to Italy’ using a swish Mini convertible. Yet there’s a third way of exploring this stretch of the Med that’s even sexier.
Even amongst the yachts of the Mediterranean, the SPV Royal Clipper, a 134-metre long old-fashioned sailboat powered by five masts of billowing white sailsstands out as an extraordinary vessel. Built in 1991, this type would have once sailed the globe searching for new lands and rare spices and spreading measles. The boat’s 42 sails unfurl in the creamy evening dusk light to the strains of Vangelis’ score from ‘1492: Conquest of Paradise’, which was blasted out over the ship’s PA each evening to get us in the mood for more rousing adventures across the high seas (read: gentle meanderings along the coast in a swanky boat).
In winter, the Royal Clipper and its sister ships, the Star Flyer and the Star Clipper, sail around the Caribbean, but the summer months see it sticking to the Mediterranean. I joined the boat halfway through a ten day Italian cruise, boarding the ship at Amalfi then sailing down the coast, through the Straits of Messina, around the north-eastern shores of Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, before finally returning north to Rome. As with most cruises, sailing would mostly happen at night, and we’d emerge in the morning having docked in a new port, where we would then spend the day.
Regular tenders take passengers from ship to shore, and excursions are offered at an extra price for those who’d prefer a guided tour. I chose a trip around the vineyards of Etna, and enjoyed a boozy lunch on the hillsides of the volcano during which I ate my weight in Sicilian cheese. Afterwards, I walked off my feast around the hill town of Taormina, exploring the town’s shops bursting with Mafia-themed tat, and again spotting tourists gazing enviously at the ship docked in port below. Nice to know that this is your ride.
One of the joys of the Royal Clipper is that its compact size (relative to a regular cruise behemoth) allows it to pull into ports and coves inaccessible to larger vessels, and I spent a delightful afternoon swimming around a tiny bay off Lipari, launching my lobster-red body from a water sports deck at the rear of the boat equipped with floats, kayaks and a windsurfing board – sadly out of action after an over enthusiastic passenger steered it directly into the rocks of Palmarola.
If excursions and water-sports don’t appeal, there’s plenty to entertain on board. The deck of the boat, all natural woods and polished brass, holds two bars and three swimming pools (one large pool with a glass bottom that lets light into the exterior, and two smaller ones that are more oversized Jacuzzis. If you really fancy slicing a main brace or manning the crow’s nest, one climbs the masts via rope ladder, a nerve-racking but exhilarating experience that affords you spectacular views once your legs have stopped shaking.
The interior is Tardis-like in design and utility – decked out in Edwardian fixtures, aping the luxurious style of the grand ships of the early 20th Century, featuring a spa, gym, library and piano lounge with a pianist tinkling out songs of that well-known olde sea shanty warbler, Billy Joel. The centre piece is the restaurant, situated beneath a three-storey atrium and anchored around a buffet where lunch and breakfast are served. It’s a far cry from the Pequod, for sure. There’s no dry biscuit, rum ration or lash in sight. Well, I certainly never saw a dry biscuit.
Dinner is a la carte and the quality of the classic European cuisine was uniformly excellent, especially the Baked Alaska which was brought out flaming and balanced atop the sizzling heads of the poor waiters. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown has some sea-borne competition. Cabins are miraculously spacious, with double beds and full-sized shower rooms, but for a truly luxurious experience, aim for the suites at the front of the ship, which sport private balconies perfect for avoiding the stowage passengers cowering below deck. I’m joking. Enjoy a glass of Limoncello in private as the boat sets sail into the evening sun. Really, I’m joking, there are no stowage passengers.
Some may find the activities a little passé. A disco in the outside bar pumped out Euro-hits from the 70s, a talent show showcased the skills of a godawful reggae band, and towel folding displays and a rendition of ‘We Are The World’ by the crew were all served up for our delectation.
All activities are optional, however, and relaxing in the netting at the prow of the ship, or watching the still active Stromboli volcano spurt molten lava into a dark night prove splendid substitutes – and no matter what happens on board, there’s always the bellissimo Italian countryside on offer, just a short tender away.Captain’s Ahab, Haddock and Pugwash never had it so good.
A three-night Mediterranean sailing on board the flagship Royal Clipper costs from £695 pp or from £1,470 pp for a week’s Mediterranean sailing on board the four-masted Star Clipper (both excluding flights). Caribbean sailings cost from £1,240. T: +44 (0)808 231 4798 starclippers.co.uk.